Porky’s opens, closes, opens

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The City of Minneapolis requires certain businesses to have licenses before they open. In the final stretch, after struggling against formidable odds to finally build a Northeast restaurant, Porky’s owners apparently fumbled the ball.

The new eat-in/drive-through restaurant at 1851 Central Ave. NE suffered a “now it’s open, now it’s not” trauma last month, after a city licensing inspector closed the unlicensed business down after three days.

Owner Tryg Truelson said “this was blown out of proportion, big-time.” He added that the matter is now resolved: Porky’s re-opened on Wednesday, Dec. 26.

“We are open now. We were given the okay by the inspector. Our site plan has been approved by city staff. Apparently some things on the site plan conflicted with the actions of the city council; they put some conditions on us that were misinterpreted,” Truelson said.

According to him, “city staff told us to go ahead and open,” and the state health inspector (different from the city inspector) “told us we were ready to go.”

The issue escalated when a store employee, angry and upset about being closed down, called KSTP radio station and blamed 1st Ward City Council Member Paul Ostrow for the closing. Employees also hung a sign, briefly, attributing the problem to Ostrow and advising neighbors to call him and complain.

Truelson said there are 12 employees at the Northeast Porky’s. “It was shocking and they were pretty upset. One of our employees, who is a neighborhood resident, called a radio station. He knows something about the story with the neighborhood, but not all of it. He went too far with his comments about Ostrow. I was actually sick to my stomach when I heard about the sign going up.”

Although he never saw the sign, Ostrow said a friend emailed him about the employee’s call to KSTP radio. “It was reported to me that the person said I was against them all along. Having supported it, this was more than a little ironic to me.” Ostrow added, however, that even though he had supported the business, he had assured neighbors that he would make sure that the city “would do the most it could to ensure that the conditions [the council imposed] were met.”

After the inspector closed the business, city planners took advantage of the opportunity to make sure Truelson complied with all the conditions of approval and his site plan. Planning Supervisor Jason Wittenberg, learning that Porky’s was about to open, had already written Truelson a letter on Dec. 20, warning that his business license might be withheld if he didn’t finish some required work. That included fixing a too-narrow street exit onto 19th Avenue, putting up signs prohibiting right turns onto 19th, and putting up a masonry wall (instead of the wood one they had built) along the alley to buffer noise. Bike racks needed to be installed, Wittenberg added, and there was “incorrect placement of the curb cut along Central Avenue.”

Wittenberg asked Truelson to write to the Zoning Administrator and request an extension for the site improvements, adding that it was typical to get an extension when “seasonal changes affect compliance (e.g. landscaping and concrete work.)” If he did so, the extension would be effective until May 31, 2008.

Wittenberg told the Northeaster that “there were a few things outlined in the letter they either didn’t do or didn’t do correctly.” Apparently, they opened without the business license being issued, he added. “They were not shut down because of lack of compliance on their site plan. The sole reason they were shut down was because they didn’t have a business license.” Once they were shut down, however, he said, “we then wanted to make sure they were committed to getting these site improvements done.”

He said that Truelson has since requested the extension. “I think they’ve made a good faith effort. There is a piece of confusion regarding the masonry wall. My expectation is that they’re going to apply to amend the site plan to allow a wood wall.” The recommendation on the type of wall, Wittenberg said, “came out of city council. Staff didn’t recommend any type of wall. We recommended denial of the project.”

Truelson said he thought a wood wall buffered sound better than a masonry wall and agreed that he would apply for an amendment.

The history

In October, 2006, the City Planning Commission agreed with city staff recommendations and denied Porky’s request for rezoning, site plan approval and a conditional use permit (CUP).

Staff had agreed with Windom Park Citizens in Action (WPCiA) and Holland Neighborhood Association (HNA) neighborhood groups, who had objected to a drive-through because it would be too disruptive to nearby houses and might increase traffic.

Some favored a sit-down restaurant, similar to Truelson’s more upscale business, Tryg’s Restaurant, near Lake Calhoun in South Minneapolis (3118 W. Lake Street). They argued that neighbors, working hard to retool Northeast’s image, deserved something nicer than a fast-food drive through. WPCiA voted against it in October, 2005.

At an Oct. 5, 2006 meeting at Parker Skyview highrise, people spoke on both sides of the issue. Supporters said they liked the Truelsons’ other business, Porky’s on University Avenue in St. Paul. Others said that Central Avenue already is a commercial corridor, clearly centered around cars. They welcomed a new business that would replace a long-time abandoned gas station, which was an eyesore.

Porky’s owners, Truelson and his mother Nora Truelson, doing business as Truco, Inc., appealed to the city council’s Zoning and Planning (Z & P) committee. Z & P overturned the staff and planning commission decisions and forwarded it to the full Minneapolis City Council. The council agreed with Z & P and Ostrow. After adding nearly 20 conditions of approval, it voted to allow Porky’s to move forward.

Workers started construction in late fall, and the building seemed to go up quickly. Truelson said a bike rack is “on its way” and that the required landscaping would be completed when weather permits. Business had been good on the first three days they were open, he added. “We were well received and happy at how the store turned out.”

Ostrow said his staff worked hard right before the holidays to help the business reopen. On New Year’s Day he said he went to Porky’s and introduced himself to the manager. “He said he had gotten his information from other people, and apologized if it wasn’t accurate.” Ostrow then ordered milkshakes, adding, “They were good.”

The Porky’s manager, who gave his first name as Lee, said he had put up the sign and called the radio station on behalf of the owners.

“They asked us to start making some noise about this.” He said he talked to Ostrow afterwards. “We got our point across. Now we’re pretty much good.”

“Business is really good,” he added. “This is different from what’s around here. People love our food.”

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