Chef, restaurateur, and current fishmonger Tim McKee, flanked by chef Lenny Russo, and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, chatted Wednesday afternoon with a group of reporters about McKee’s upcoming Lowertown project, Market House Collaborative.
“I grew up in St. Paul. I’ve always had a special affinity for St. Paul,” McKee said. “I’ve been watching the market for a long time, and it’s so full of energy right now, it’s amazing and great to see.”
Russo added: “It’s just a giant coup for St. Paul to have someone of Tim’s caliber and integrity to be here.”
McKee is leasing from Russo about two-thirds of the former home of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market. McKee’s planned food hall will be divided into four separate entities:
- A bakery, on the corner of 5th and Broadway Street, in the former Heartland market space (pictured, below.)
- A double-threat retail space in Heartland’s old dining room: a butcher shop on one side (very likely, a second outpost of a certain Minneapolis butcher) and a fish market on the other, called Almanac Fish.
- A casual seafood restaurant will occupy the middle of the space, anchored by an expanded bar. McKee is currently determining a chef-partner to collaborate on the concept.
Heartland’s two bi-level private dining rooms, which are separate properties, are still available for lease. Russo speculated that an art gallery would fit perfectly in one of them.
McKee stresses that “Collaborative” is not just a name. The restaurant will purchase meat and fish from the adjoining markets, and bread and pastries from the bakery. He expects the three retail outlets to collaborate amongst themselves as well.
He also stressed that the Collaborative is his venture, and the business is fully distinct from his interest in The Fish Guys, though Almanac Fish will purchase from the seafood distributor.
With the project succeeding Heartland in Lowertown, McKee drew a parallel with launching La Belle Vie in the footprint of Gordon Schuette’s revered 510 Groveland.
“I was stepping into the shoes of the restaurant that pretty much invented fine dining in the Twin Cities,” McKee says. “That was intimidating, and I kind of feel like I’m in the same position all over again. I mean what [Russo] built here, was actually impossible, and he did it, and I really appreciate the chance to work on the road that [he] paved.”
Mayor Coleman echoed McKee’s praise of Russo: “I also think a true visionary sets up a future vision and that’s what we have here with Tim coming in.”
The Mayor sees the project as contributing to the trajectory of the area. “It’s going to fit in perfectly with the vibe of Lowertown,” Coleman said. “If anyone doubts the reality of the excitement and vitality of downtown St. Paul, then you weren’t here last weekend [for Twin Cities Jazz Festival]. It was an amazing special weekend, but it’s no longer the exception, it’s now the rule.”
And will McKee, a James Beard Award-winning chef, be found in the kitchen at the as-yet-unnamed restaurant? “Well yeah,” he demurs, “but, I have other jobs, too.”
Market House Collaborative is aiming for an October opening.