Jensen’s to open Cafe Bar in Heart of the City

Brian Hehr, co-owner of Jensen’s Cafe, and his partner, Doron Jensen, are expanding the business with The Cafe Bar. (Photo by John Gessner)

A new business awning around the corner from Jensen’s Cafe in Burnsville has generated more inquiries than Brian Hehr ever imagined.

“I think you can see it from Mars,” said Hehr, who owns Jensen’s with partner Doron Jensen. “It’s pretty yellow, don’t you think?”

The brightly colored overhang is for The Cafe Bar, which the partners hope to open by Oct. 4. It’s an extension of the cafe, which recently secured a full liquor license.

The addition will expand the cafe’s presence in the Grande Market Square building at Nicollet Avenue and Burnsville Parkway in the Heart of the City.

The opportunity to expand came when American Family Insurance relocated from its ground-floor location to other office space in the three-level building, Hehr said.

A wall will be knocked down to join the cafe and bar. The bar will add seating for 40. The cafe now seats 126.

“We’re picking up extra seating, which is something we need, especially on the weekends,” Hehr said. “We don’t want to lose guests to a 45-minute wait, so we’re thinking this is going to be the solution to retaining more guests on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.”

Bloody Marys and mimosas will be signature cocktails, Hehr said. An offering of 10 draft beers is planned. The bar will close at 9 p.m. with the cafe, he said.

“We don’t want our current guests to be turned off at all,” Hehr said. “I think it’s going to be very classy, and I think it’s going to tie into what we do right now very well.”

Hehr and Jensen, the cafe’s majority owner, first worked together in the restaurant business in 1984. Jensen, then a manager for Minnesota-founded Old Country Buffet, was opening locations around the Twin Cities when he hired Hehr to work in Fridley.

Jensen’s career started at his grandfather’s restaurant, Jensen’s Cafe in Fremont, Nebraska. After leaving Old Country Buffet he launched a Florida chain called Homestyle Buffet.

In 1991 he opened the former Minnesota Steakhouse on Aldrich Avenue west of Interstate 35W in Burnsville. Hehr was one of the partners.

The company went public and changed its name to Timber Lodge Steakhouse, expanding its reach to include locations in South Dakota, New York and Wisconsin, Hehr said. He and Jensen are no longer connected with Timber Lodge.

In 1996, Jensen opened Jensen’s Supper Club in Eagan’s Cedar Grove area. In 2014 he changed the name to Jensen’s Food and Cocktails.

“We’re both in our 50s now,” Hehr said. “The dreams change. We’re both family men, living in the area. He lives in Burnsville, I live in Apple Valley. And raising our kids and just staying true to the community and trying to run the best establishment that we can is really what we’re all about. We’ve done the corporate thing, opening the restaurants, and I think we’re kind of beyond that.”

Jensen’s Cafe opened in 2005 in the then-new Grande Market Square building, a cornerstone of the Heart of the City redevelopment district.

“This was something that I wanted to do,” said Hehr, who said he approached Jensen with the idea.

In the ensuing years Jensen’s has become the building’s only food tenant. The building’s third floor, originally a banquet and kitchen space, has been divided into offices, he said.

The building is nearly full, and the bet he and Jensen made on the Heart of the City was a good one, Hehr said.

“It’s come a long way,” he said. “I think that the area was a little blighted. Now, I think it’s thriving, and it looks nice.”