Institutional Dining: The Rosewood Room and Crowne Plaza Northstar
Chris Dwyer, the executive chef at the Crowne Plaza Northstar Downtown, in his memory-filled office.
Back in its heyday the Rosewood Room was a popular spot for both celebrities in the evening and the business crowd for lunch, where diners were privy to a synchronized swimming show with their three-martini lunch.
Located in the then Northstar Inn, the upscale dining room overlooked the glassed-in pool on the seventh floor.
“I do recall all the WCCO Radio on-air gang used to hang out at the Rosewood Room bar,” said Pat Lindquist, a writer for The Journal, a publication that at one time covered downtown Minneapolis. “It was very cool to chat with the likes of (radio hosts) Charlie Boone,” Steve Cannon and Cedric Adams. At night, the Copper Hearth had a “sparking fireplace” and a piano bar setting. Cargill and Pillsbury also had their offices nearby.
Lindquist also remembers that while the Rosewood Room refused to seat women wearing pants suits, the Copper Hearth would allow them in the bar. Once Lindquist hosted a meeting with a New York designer and the female president of a local advertising agency and they had to conduct their business in the bar, not in the Rosewood Room. “Wow, do you believe it,” she said.
That infamous room is no longer a public dining space and the hotel is now the Crowne Plaza Minneapolis Northstar on Second Avenue South, across from the WCCO-TV station. The seventh floor now hosts the hotel’s honor lounge and a breakfast spot, the Northstar Café, where 95 percent of the customers are hotel guests. There are also banquet rooms—where the pool used to reside—which just recently hosted the American Culinary Federation’s Minneapolis awards ceremony. While the pool is gone, the 7th-floor rooftop, that used to be the Sky Garden, is still around.
When he took over the position of executive chef Christopher Dwyer discovered some old menus from the Rosewood Room days and decided to bring back the old-style glamour for the Valentine’s Day weekend. The menu included Rosewood favorites such as tableside Caesar salad for two, Beef Wellington, Baked Stuffed Lobster Thermidor and for dessert, tableside Bananas Foster or Baked Alaska.
Dwyer would like to see this menu become a mainstay, but that would take some renovation, which may or may not be on the horizon. “I’m excited about the potential for fine dining,” he said. And while he can’t say for sure, he’s hoping the current franchisee, The Marcus Corporation headquartered in Milwaukee, sees the potential in upping the dining options at the hotel. They have the chops, their portfolio includes hotels, restaurants and movie theaters.
Currently the restaurant situation isn’t ideal. The kitchen is on the seventh floor and the bar/restaurant that’s open to both guests and the public is on the first floor. “Staff gets 50-cents for every meal they run down” from the 7th floor to the first, Dwyer said. Staff also delivers room service orders, and a sign in the elevator reminds guests “don’t call out, call down (to the kitchen).” Room service is always the surprise: “Some days we do 40 to 50, some days zero,” he said. The menu is the same as the one downstairs, just with additional fees tacked on.
Working for a franchise is different than working for an independent restaurant or hotel. IHG, the parent company for Crowne Plaza, controls 80 percent of the menu. Which isn’t all bad, Dwyer admits, because “they do the legwork, do the specs, recipe card and all you do is plug in the price.” Since the hotel is located downtown, food costs are more than in other locations, he pointed out.
One of the historical pictures hanging in the former lobby on the seventh floor.
For the 20 percent of the menu under his control, Dwyer has added local flavors, such as walleye, cheese curds and a Juicy Lucy. And while he has the buying power of both IHG and Marcus—sometimes it’s like the Coke and Pepsi situation, where the franchisor is in one camp and the franchisee in another, and you aren’t sure who to pick. But fortunately, he can also use local vendors. And when he has a strong opinion about something, such as the blended burger mix, he wins. “My choice is brisket, chuck and short rib,” he said.
The guest mix in the street-level restaurant is 50-50, Dwyer said, between guests and the downtown crowd. If the guest-stay is three to four days, he said, they’ll see the same guests between two and three times.
The street-level bar is also a popular spot for downtown workers to stop in for a drink before heading home. One of the main reasons is the bartender is a pro. “Bob has a following,” Dwyer said about the longtime bartender Bob Murry.
When he was hired the bar had 151 different kinds of whiskey. That was changed. “We’re a beer bar,” Dwyer said. “Travelers always ask, ‘What’s local?’” when making a beer selection. It’s also considered a Bears bar, so when the Bears play the Vikings, the hotel is overrun with Chicago fans. To help fan the enthusiasm of the Bears devotees, they set up concession stands in the lobby for grab-and-go food and beers. A popular drink for the football fans is the PB & J: Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Jameson, Murry said. College sports fans also stay there, and since the Armory is around the corner, music fans do as well.
For Dwyer, it’s the ideal job in a number of ways. A former culinary instructor, he’s able to use those skills in the kitchen to show off his cooking ability and teach. “I’m hands-on and that keep my staff engaged,” he said. And while he’d like to bring back the classic-style fine dining, “I don’t like to go to a place where the price of a meal is a car payment.”
Staff turnover is low, and he said he doesn’t have any trouble hiring people. But one of the reasons for longevity may be that it’s a union shop.
Dwyer is one of five on the executive committee, which includes the hotel side of the business, and “each of us has rules we have to follow.” Ironically, he says, his employees have better health coverage than he does.
For Murry, the health benefits are one of the reasons he’s not planning on going anywhere. “I’ve been a union bartender all my career,” he says, adding that the medical and dental are key.
For Dwyer, the work is key.