Strip comes alive with new restaurants

Kevin Martinez of Savage is general manger of the newly opened Rack Bar and Grill on Aldrich Avenue in Burnsville, which he owns with two partners. Photo by John Gessner

The Rack, Hurricane open on Aldrich Avenue

Wings with attitude are back on a Burnsville frontage road known in recent years for its empty buildings and departed Hooters Restaurant.

Two new bar-restaurants  opened in recent weeks on Aldrich Avenue west of Interstate 35W and south of Burnsville Parkway.

The chicken wing-slinging Hooters, whose November 2010 closing followed the shuttering of the same owners’ Hooters locations in St. Cloud and downtown Minneapolis, is now the site of Hurricane Grill and Wings.

Jordan Combs, Jenna Hansen, Brittney Lynn Sellner and Heidi Cook are all waitresses at Kevin Martinez’s new Burnsville restaurant, Rack Bar and Grill. Photo by John Gessner.

While the Florida-based chain serves up wings, beers and other fare with an oceanside vibe, the competitor two doors down is keeping the Hooters legacy in its rear-view mirror.

The Rack Bar and Grill   is designed to evoke a hunting or fishing lodge, except  hunting and fishing lodges don’t usually come with a wait-staff crew called the Rack Girls. These servers dress for the indoors, in black shorts and camouflage tank tops.

The business is in the old Timber Lodge Steakhouse building, which was vacant longer than Hooters.

Troy Benesh, general manager of the Burnsville  Hurricane Grill and Wings, said the sudden appearance of two bar-restaurants on a previously moribund commercial strip can only benefit both.

“My opinion is, high tides float all boats,” said Benesh, who was previously part-owner of the Dickey’s Barbecue Pit location in Burnsville’s Heart of the City. “I look at it strictly as a positive. It gives people an option, more reason to come by.”

Between the two buildings is a retail building that housed a store called The Parrot before it also went dark. A new occupant, Halal Groceries, arrived this spring.

“We’re happy. Everything is full up on that corner,” said Skip Nienhaus, Burnsville’s economic development coordinator.
The Rack

Rack Girls are “easy on the eyes,” said general manager Kevin Martinez, who owns the restaurant with two other partners.

Martinez, of Savage, knows this territory. He  spent 15 years opening and managing Hooters Restaurants, including stints at the Burnsville and Mall of America locations and even an assignment in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

“It was just time for me to do it myself,” Martinez said. “It’s a dream come true. I feel really blessed to have this staff. A lot of them worked for me before.”

The decor of the old Timber Lodge lent itself to the Rack concept, which Martinez designed. Customers are greeted by a rack of caribou antlers at the entrance.

“Without the Rack Girls, we wouldn’t be the Rack Bar and Grill,” Martinez said. “The Rack Girl is the essence and key to our concept.”

Rack also refers to the tender ribs on the menu, which includes burgers and other bar fare.

“Chicken wings — we’ve had rave reviews on our chicken wings,” said Martinez, who, with his partners, considered locating in the old Hooters building before settling on the Timber Lodge.

“Just having this whole corner alive again is going to be bringing people that usually don’t come to this side of Burnsville back again,” Martinez said.

The Burnsville location of Hurricane Grill and Wings is the first in Minnesota for the Florida-based chain, which has nearly 50 restaurants in seven states. The Burnsville restaurant is owned by Torgerson properties, which owns and operates restaurants and hotels in Minnesota and Naples, Fla.

Hurricane touts its 32 flavors of jumbo wings on a menu of “island-inspired” flavors.

“Our speciality is great wings, great burgers, great wraps — just fresh flavors,”  Benesh said.

Improvements to the building include fresh landscaping, an outdoor patio with fire pit, new lights in the parking lot, a fresh coat of paint on the outside and a refurbished interior.

“If you saw an old surf shack along the beach somewhere, that’s just the vibe,” Benesh said.

“You’re going from that dark ’80s decor to that light beach theme,” he said. “It’s 80 and sunny in Burnsville every day. That’s my new tag line.”