After a year of fighting St. Paul City Hall and neighbors, the owner of the popular Cupcake restaurant is abandoning plans for a Grand Avenue shop and will go to the Mall of America instead.
Kevin VanDeraa, who earned national recognition as winner of the Food Network’s recent “Cupcake Wars” competition, said the megamall in Bloomington approached him with a proposal he couldn’t pass up.
“We’ll be the only cupcake shop in the Mall of America,” VanDeraa said Wednesday, July 11. “There’s just a lot of positive things about it.”
Positivity was something that was definitely missing in St. Paul, he said.
VanDeraa said he lost $150,000 trying to open the store in the former Wonderment Toy Store location near busy Grand Avenue and Victoria Street.
VanDeraa wanted to serve beer and wine at the St. Paul location, much like at his busy University Avenue bakery in Minneapolis, but he didn’t have enough parking spots to meet city code for businesses that serve alcohol. The parking issue was eventually resolved, but not before VanDeraa had to stop construction on a building he was leasing.
The next fight was over a liquor license, and that battle was still brewing when VanDeraa decided to pull the plug.
“All along, for the entire year process, it was like, ‘Isn’t this the store you actually want on Grand Avenue?’ ” VanDeraa said, referring to past issues neighbors have taken with national chain stores moving in.
The main sticking point was that he was serving lcohol, VanDeraa said.
“It’s like they were worried about drunk people walking around,” he said. “But that’s just not how people use alcohol at Cupcake.”
Cupcake in Minneapolis serves beer and wine, but most people have a sandwich and a cupcake and maybe a glass of wine, he said.
City council member Dave Thune, who represents the Grand Avenue area, had initially sided with neighbors who didn’t want Cupcake to move in, but he said he felt that any disagreements had mostly been ironedout.
“It’s too bad given the length of time and the amount of angst over the issues,” Thune said.
Joe Campbell, spokesman for Mayor Chris Coleman, said the mayor backed the proposal from the start. Coleman championed a change to city ordinances so restaurants that close by midnight would be exempt from increased parking requirements, he said.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Campbell said. “It’s got such great food, and we’re sorry it won’t be close to us. But we understand he made a business decision that was hard to pass up.”
VanDeraa plans an Aug. 1 opening at the MOA. He said the new restaurant will serve cupcakes and coffee drinks, but not alcohol. The shop must open by Aug. 11, which is the mall’s 20th anniversary, he said.
The store will have a retro design and a window so shoppers can see the cupcakes being made.
“People are going to love it,” VanDeraa said.
He said he hasn’t entirely closed the door on a future St. Paul store, but he had to drop the Grand Avenue plans for business reasons.
“It’s been an expensive loss and a good lesson in business,” VanDeraa said. (Source: Pioneer Press)