New life is coming to the Jade Fountain restaurant in West Duluth.

The new owner is working on renovations to the space, which will open as a bar and eventually a restaurant once the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Kai Soderberg hopes his establishment, located at 305 N. Central Ave. in the Spirit Valley neighborhood, becomes a gathering spot for the West Duluth community. It's located in an area that's seen other old businesses revamped, like the West Theater, a historic establishment that opened last summer after major renovations.

Kai Soderberg pauses while working at the Jade Fountain in West Duluth Thursday, April 9. The new owner has taken out the old drop ceiling to reveal a hidden tin ceiling. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Kai Soderberg pauses while working at the Jade Fountain in West Duluth Thursday, April 9. The new owner has taken out the old drop ceiling to reveal a hidden tin ceiling. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

"It's definitely a gem," Soderberg said of the Jade Fountain. "It's in reasonably good shape. I've lucked out."

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The character of the building will remain the same, but a few new features, like a tin ceiling Soderberg found hidden behind a drop ceiling, will be added.

"I think Jade Fountain has been ... an iconic building. And the way we're kind of redoing it or reinterpreting it is ... good," he said.

Originally built in 1968, the Jade Fountain, run by founder George Wong, was once recognized as one of the best restaurants in the Twin Ports. Bill Kalligher, who owns Gannucci's Italian Market next door, bought the building in 2015 after the widow of co-owner Sick Cheung Lee asked him to consider purchasing it, according to News Tribune reporting.

Now under new leadership, the Jade Fountain will operate as a bar and serve Asian-influenced appetizers. Later on, with help from Kalligher, the establishment may offer some dishes.

Kai Soderberg works inside the Jade Fountain in West Duluth Thursday, April 9. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Kai Soderberg works inside the Jade Fountain in West Duluth Thursday, April 9. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

"My focus is going to be on drinks. That's where my experience is ... and that's where all our revenue is coming from," Soderberg said.

He'd spent most of his life working in the hospitality industry, and considered moving to the East Coast, before deciding on Duluth. However, he found it difficult to advance in the city's hospitality industry.

"So, I figure ... (if) I'm going to excel in my chosen profession, it has to be on my own (with) something I built myself," he said.

The Jade Fountain, specifically its facade, has been on Soderberg's mind for a couple of years.

"I just thought it would always be a great bar," he said.

Soderberg planned to open the space mid-April, but the pandemic has pushed that date back. The Jade Fountain will open when it's allowed to and it is safe to do so.