Walking down Nicollet Mall this winter, you might have caught a whiff of charred meat and glanced around for its origin. Its source was 801 Chophouse, with only a flashing neon sign to identify it as a restaurant. You can’t see inside, because 801, like its sister restaurants from Denver to Des Moines, is inward-facing, designed as a cloistered environment hidden from the street.
That puts the restaurant in violation of two zoning codes for windows. The city of Minneapolis and the restaurant have been in a back-and-forth over it.
When the city first received complaints about high-backed booths blocking 801’s windows, it tried to negotiate. The restaurant removed some millwork and cut back the number of wooden louvers, and the case was closed says Brad Ellis, manager of Minneapolis’ zoning administration and enforcement. But the city continued to receive complaints, and the case was reopened.
“It is rare. Usually people fall out of compliance [to prompt the city] to open up a new case. Generally, with compliance, complaints cease,” Ellis said via email. The restaurant company, given the city’s backtracking, feels it’s being picked on after making a more than $5 million investment in downtown and employing roughly 70 people before the Covid-19 shutdowns.
“The codes exist to encourage a better pedestrian environment, as well as for safety—if people can see in and out, it is much more likely an illegal activity could be observed and the police called,” Ellis says. “As I understand it, their main resistance stems from the cost of cutting down the booths.”
Still in violation of codes 551.930(b) and 530.120(b)(2)(e), the restaurant is formally appealing, but did not make a representative available to TCB for comment. (Local design firm Shea Inc. did not design the restaurant, but created construction and permit documents based on a design prototype 801 has in other markets.)
The city has scheduled a public hearing for April 23 on the matter.