Chef Shack finds a permanent home

RICK NELSON | Updated 10/28/2013

The popular food truck has landed a bricks-and-mortar home in Minneapolis' Seward neighborhood.

The Chef Shack has found a permanent Minneapolis home.

After a three-year real estate odyssey, co-owners Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer (pictured, above) are taking their popular and influential food truck business into full-service restaurant territory. They’ve leased the former Raja’s Mahal (3025 E. Franklin Av., Mpls.) and are in the process of converting it into Chef Shack Ranch.

“We’re calling it a ‘modern urban truck stop,’” said Summer.

Because they’ve landed in the Seward neighborhood, one of the city’s unofficial vegetarian enclaves — it’s the home of the Seward Cafe, Seward Co-op and Birchwood Cafe — Carlson and Summer plan to make a statement by taking their menu in the opposite direction: pulled pork with hand-cut fries, pork brisket, beef cheeks, beef tongue, a bison burger, meat loaf with mashed potatoes, roast chicken, biscuits and gravy and more. “It’s going to be a meat hut,” said Summer.

As for dessert, “We’re going to be making mini-doughnuts all the time, baby,” she said with a laugh, a reference to a Chef Shack menu staple. “And we’ll be making pies and ice cream and all those favorites that you can get in a good truck stop.”

A fixed-location Chef Shack doesn’t mean that the trucks are disappearing. The opposite, actually. The Chef Shack Ranch’s surprisingly ample kitchen will also serve as the fleet’s commissary kitchen, replacing the facility that Carlson and Summer had been leasing in south Minneapolis.

“We have to change with the times, and keeping showing a new face,” said Summer. “That keeps us fresh, and it keeps our customers engaged. They want new food, and we want to do new food, so it works.”

The new restaurant is coming along just as the outdoor truck season is winding down. Chef Shack trucks made their final regular-season appearances at Minneapolis farmers markets this past weekend — at Mill City Farmers Market and Fulton Farmers Market on Saturday, and Kingfield Farmers Market on Sunday. The trucks are now moving into private event mode, and gearing up for occasional winter farmers market gigs (the first cold-weather Kingfield-Fulton collaboration is Nov. 10 at Bachman’s in south Minneapolis).

“My crew has their Carhartts ready,” said Summer with a laugh.

One change is coming next spring to the truck side of the Chef Shack business: Expect to see fewer sightings in downtown Minneapolis.

“There are just so many trucks down there, competing for limited parking spaces, which is why we’ve been avoiding it as much as we can,” said Summer. “We’ve been down there maybe once a week.”

The duo is also continuing their first bricks-and-mortar effort, the year-old, weekend-only Chef Shack Bay City, located a few miles south of Red Wing., Minn., on the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin.

Meanwhile, the 40-seat Minneapolis restaurant — familiar to anyone (pictured, above) who remembers Moti Mahal, Lucy’s Ethiopian Restaurant, an off-campus outpost of the Big 10 and a parade of other tenants — is getting a quick low-budget makeover, with walls covered in repurposed barn wood and salvaged tin ceiling material. A tree-lined patio and a takeout window should materialize next spring.

“I want a rustic, down-home feel,” said Summer. “Something approachable, because that’s what we do, approachable.”

Right now the plan is to initially start with a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule, focusing on dinner and Sunday brunch. An opening date hasn’t been pinned down.

“Right now we’re looking at December, possibly, although we might hold off until January,” said Summer. “We’re really busy in Bay City, so we’re not in a rush to open, we’re just quietly plugging away and working on it. We’ve waited a long time to open in our home city, and we’re super-excited.”