Sep 11, 2023 - Food and Drink

What's behind Lakeville's restaurant and bar boom

beer with nachos

Lakeville Brewing launched its brewpub in 2016. Photo courtesy of Lakeville Brewing Co.

Before he opened Lakeville Brewing Company in 2016, Don Seiler and his wife spent many weekends driving 30 miles to the Twin Cities for a craft beer.

  • "What was missing in Lakeville was anything close to a unique local restaurant spot," he recalled. "There was an Applebee's."

Today, he has no shortage of options — and competition — in the suburb's downtown corridor.

Driving the news: At least eight additional dining, drinking, or entertainment spots have opened in an area spanning several blocks since Seiler and his partners hatched plans to open the brewpub in a former VFW in the heart of historic downtown.

Why it matters: A booming dining and entertainment scene gives families flocking to one of Minnesota's fastest-growing cities -- which is projected to hit 83,500 by 2040 -- things to do there.

Plus: City leaders say the transformation of the city's traditional "Main Street" of Holyoke Ave. gives Lakeville an edge over neighboring suburbs in attracting residents, workers, and visitors.

How it happened: A half dozen local business owners and city officials told Axios that the debut of Lakeville and Angry Inch Brewing seven years ago had a snowball effect.

  • The venues brought more people to the area on evenings and weekends. That in turn attracted even more businesses that wanted to capture some of the spending by young families moving to the area.

Seiler, whose initial pitch was based on a "gut marketing feeling" that if his family wanted more local haunts, others did, too, said that was by design.

  • "Our intention was to create enough traffic in downtown Lakeville that it would spur other businesses opening up right in that spot and eventually become an entertainment district."
a burger and fries with cheese and pickles
A burger from The Better Half, which filled a spot formerly occupied by Alibi, the bar that flouted pandemic restrictions. Photo courtesy of The Better Half

What they're saying: Some other local restaurateurs agree with that "the more the merrier" outlook.

  • "It's kind of like car dealerships," said Jason Saji, director of operations for both B-52 Burgers and Brew and The Better Half. "Once we have more destinations to draw [people], everybody can hop around a few different places."

Between the lines: The growth wasn't all organic. Several owners credited the city's willingness to work with businesses — Lakeville didn't even allow breweries before 2016, and it added another licensing option to accommodate liquor sales at a curling club.

  • The city also spent millions on making the area more appealing via streetscaping and updates to the Lakeville Area Arts Center that anchors downtown, city administrator Justin Miller said.
  • Just this summer, it spent more than $1 million to buy a nearby former school building to use for expanded art classes and programming.

Of note: While Lakeville doesn't collect a local sales tax, boosters say the economic development has generated cash for the city's coffers by increasing property values downtown.

What we're hearing: Mayor Luke Hellier told Axios there's been a "big surge" in businesses reaching out for space in recent weeks.

  • "We're getting to a point where there are very few commercial buildings that are unoccupied at the moment."

What we're watching: Lakeville will need to look for ways to increase space — and parking for patrons — as demand grows.

  • Hellier said that could include eventually turning nearby homes for sale into commercial businesses and a "50th and France strategy" to allow parking decks behind businesses, as the popular Edina shopping district does.

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