Longfellow residents Amy Greeley and her husband Doug Flicker pose with their dog, Phoebe, on the beach at Lake Nokomis. Their soon-to-be-open Sandcastle concession is shown being renovated in the background. They co-own the enterprise with Chele Payer (not pictured). (Photo by Jill Boogren) Sandcastle concession to open soon at Lake Nokomis By JILL BOOGREN
After several years of being shuttered, the little building at the big beach of Lake Nokomis is about to fling open its windows for service once again, as Sandcastle. But don’t look for an ordinary snack shack. You’ll just as soon get a chilled gazpacho soup as a bag of Skittles, a watermelon salad as an ice cream Drumstick, or fish tacos as popcorn. The eclectic menu comes from Chef Doug Flicker of Piccolo (and formerly of Auriga), who co-owns the enterprise with his wife, Amy Greeley, and longtime associate Chele Payer. Only one menu item originated at Piccolo, a sweet pea falafel. Everything else is being created for Sandcastle. His signature hot dog, The Dog Flicker, is a beef frank with kimchee, cilantro and fried egg. Flicker “likes to have fun with his food,” said Greeley. “He’s always putting a little twist on things to make it a little more fun and interesting.” The building will have a grab and go window on the beach side, so people swimming, walking, rollerblading, or biking by can get a quick treat. There will also be a patio, where people can relax and take in the lake view for a while, and — yes! – even enjoy a glass of beer or wine (pending approval of their liquor license). These will have separate windows where you’ll place an order and then be notified when it’s ready. There will not be any indoor seating. This summer, the patio will be transitional seating for about 100 people, in a fenced in area with a tent and tables. Think beer garden, but family friendly. A community picnic. “It’s not a bar setting,” said Shane Stenzel, manager of use and event permitting for the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, which is in charge of all outdoor landscaping, including the patio, additional park seating, planting, and pathways. In time the patio will be built to fit. Stenzel said they’ll be assessing traffic patterns before constructing any permanent structures, which will most likely begin in the fall. Existing tables may get moved, removed or fixed up. To ease traffic flow, the bike and canoe rentals might be moved to the other end of the beach. Meantime, Sandcastle owners are on the hook for all of the work being done to the building itself. This is no small price tag considering the building had been shut down due to code violations, and upgrades were needed for everything from plumbing and electrical, to the roof and walls. Together, building and equipment will cost about $500,000. It’s a huge investment, but it helps to have Sea Salt and Tin Fish as successful examples of how this can work in our parks. Green building design and operations is important to the owners. Using Locus Architecture with eco-conscious John Booth of The Big Room as their contractor, they’re maintaining the footprint of the former building. Thermally-treated (instead of chemically-treated) wood is being used, and they’re exploring whether they can install solar to cover some of their energy use. The establishment will be as near zero waste as possible. Compostable plates, cups and flatware will be used. Whatever can be reused will be, and they’ll recycle the rest. A master recycler has helped with logistics, and Eureka Recycling will be in charge of hauling out. According to Steffanie Musich, president of Friends of Lake Nokomis and member of the Citizens Advisory Committee that evaluated proposals for operating the concession, their mindfulness for waste control and minimization were among qualities that made Sandcastle so attractive. “That they were taking their environmental mindset to the next level really appealed,” said Musich. Right down to the Agua Frescas they’re serving, in which watermelon that isn’t needed for the melon salads will be used for flavored water. Likewise with ginger, strawberries, and rhubarb, when in season. In the survey, which drew over 600 respondents, people also said they wanted a variety of options, healthy alternatives, locally-sourced fresh ingredients, and beer and wine. “Sandcastle checked all the boxes,” said Musich. Flicker acknowledges that providing food for the wet and hungry masses will be a departure from serving up small plates at Piccolo’s 36-seat dining room. “It will be so different from what I do on a daily basis,” he said. He looks forward to the seasonal work and having the “experience of summer camp,” his summer job on the lake. Greeley said she’s eager for the neighborhood to come out and spend time there, and for people to have a place to hang out. “We’re so excited to have this space,” said Greeley. “We just don’t have that anywhere else, right next to the beach.” True. And what’s not to love about gazing out over the lake and enjoying a warm breeze with a cool beverage and a bite to eat? Sandcastle beckons you to "Eat like a King," where robes and finery are optional, and flip flops reign. Musich plans to paddle to Sandcastle from her home near the south side of the lake and is excited about the pork sandwich. “I make a mean pulled pork,” she said. “But the one that Doug puts together is kind of magical.” Sandcastle is expected to open at the end of this month. Future seasons will run from April through October.