Downtown Duluth’s budding historic arts and theater district has a new eatery.
Greysolon Plaza’s new Lark O’ the Lake Cafe - Lark Cafe for short - opened quietly 10 days ago on the not-so-quiet Black Friday weekend.
And with it, the corner storefront has been returned to its original coffee shop configuration when the 1920s building was the Hotel Duluth.
The eatery, sporting a vintage aviation theme, is a true cafe, said Sandra Ettestad, who owns the business along with her husband, Mark Marino, and Don Monaco of Air Monaco Duluth.
“We don’t have a full kitchen,” Ettestad said. “We can’t grill or cook, according to our license. We can warm and assemble.”
The menu includes coffee and espresso drinks, smoothies, pastries, deli sandwiches, soups, salads and old-fashioned ice cream desserts. Prices are affordable, with most lunches less than $10. The cafe has Wi-Fi and is close to getting a wine and beer license.
The owners - all trustees of the Duluth Aviation Institute - started the cafe to increase awareness of local aviation and to help fund the institute’s Path to Aviation program in Duluth, Hermantown, Proctor and Fond du Lac public schools.
Cafe profits will go to help fund the school program, which costs $40,000 to $90,000 a year, Ettestad said, noting the more they raise through contributions and grants, the more they can do.
“We still have to pay our bills, but whatever else is left over will go to this program,” she said.
In its sixth year, the program provides aviation science lessons for 900 sixth-graders for two months in the last half of the school year.
“It’s their science lesson,” Ettestad explained. “We’re co-teaching. The teachers learn from us. We want to give everybody a foundation of knowledge about aviation.”
They hope eventually to expand the program to include ninth-graders.
Ettestad noted that Duluth has a rich aviation history, beginning with the Lark of Duluth, a 1913 seaplane that inspired the cafe’s name. Owned a century ago by Julius Barnes, a wealthy Duluth grain trader and entrepreneur, the floating biplane made history in 1914 when it became the world’s first commercial passenger air service, shuttling passengers between two Florida cities.
Marino led efforts a few years ago to build a replica of the Lark, which was showcased at the institute’s Lark O’ the Lake Festival in July 2013 at Sky Harbor Airport.
An expansive mural stretches across one wall of the cafe - a black and white picture of the original Lark of Duluth merging with a color picture of the replica being flown by Marino. More pictures of the historic Lark are coming, while a replica of its wood propeller already is on display.
The right tenant
Work began in July to transform the former Jacqui’s deli and Romano’s grocery at Superior Street and Third Avenue East. The 1,600-square-foot space was gutted and enlarged to 2,200 square feet.
The drop ceiling, wood paneling and linoleum flooring were removed. Care was taken to preserve or complement the building’s historic features while making infrastructure improvements. Columns, woodwork and cornices, doors and large window openings were kept. Utilities were upgraded, new windows and awnings installed.
“With the ceiling, we tried to emulate but not copy the trim and design of the lobby, put in cornice pieces and use colors in harmony with the lobby and the building in general,” Ettestad said.
The original coffee shop had a sit-down counter for diners dividing the space, with tables by the windows. In this reincarnation, the space is opened up with no counter. Customers order at a service counter and are served at their tables.
Marino did much of the buildout himself.
“My husband is a very capable builder,” Ettestad said. “He built six airplanes and five houses. He did the work.”
Both the tenant and building owner, Sherman Associates, are covering the costs of the buildout, said Kathy Marinac, Sherman’s senior commercial real estate manager.
The storefront sat empty for two years before Ettestad, Marino and Monaco came along with their plan for an upscale cafe. It fit with Sherman’s desire for a more ambitious redevelopment of the space to go along with the restoration work at Greysolon Plaza in recent years.
“There have been other possibilities that didn’t pan out,” Marinac said. “The difference is the past prospects would have just remodeled portions, which would not have been as significant. Now, a whole new buildout has been done. It’s a significant change to that space.”
With the tenant’s 10-year lease and their investment in the space, such a major remodel of the storefront could be done, she said.
The cafe will employ about 10 people when hiring is complete.
Cafe location and hours
The Lark O’ the Lake Cafe, 231 E. Superior St., is open from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.