Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine drew people in with slow-cooked meals, warm hospitality and tingling spices. The south Minneapolis restaurant was featured on food shows, including the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” where Marla Jadoonanan cooked Guy Fieri her popular oxtail recipe.
But this was her last week in the building and, she said, it felt like a funeral, complete with loyal patrons crying and sending flowers.
“It’s like losing a child,” Jadoonanan, 53, said. “You brought happiness to people by feeding them good food and being a good community person. And that is being pulled away from you.”
The building on the 3700 block of S. Bloomington Avenue has new owners, and facing a rent hike, she decided to close after 14 years and look for another location.
On Thursday afternoon, about 50 supporters gathered across the street from the cozy corner restaurant to thank Jadoonanan and decry what they saw as the latest example of gentrification in the city.
“This is bigger than Marla’s,” Nate Hart-Andersen, an organizer for Twin Cities Musicians Against Gentrification, told the crowd. “This is one building, this is one struggle, but there are struggles happening all around the city, all around the state.”
Gentrification, or the renovation of blighted neighborhoods, has been debated in the Twin Cities and other metro areas for years. While some value the added investment previously missing in certain neighborhoods, others see it as leading to the displacement of small businesses and low-income and minority residents.
A study released this year by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs reported that longtime business owners in the Powderhorn area were particularly concerned about being displaced. Some had a fear of “Uptowning,” in reference to the city’s Uptown commercial district where national chains took the place of smaller businesses.
Jadoonanan has seen the neighborhood change firsthand. Powderhorn was a magnet for prostitution, drugs and gang activity when she first opened the restaurant, she said. That image has been shed for the better, and she said she wanted her restaurant to remain a part of that reinvigoration.
“I think it’s time that somebody does something, because we need a voice,” she said. “It’s the way that these people are coming in and pushing us out, and they’re very callous about it.”
Dan Coleman, the building’s owner, sees differently. His company, First and Third Properties, focuses exclusively in managing properties in south Minneapolis, and he said his main goal is to reinvest into the community where he was raised.
The rent Jadoonanan was paying the previous owner did not reflect current market rates, he said. In order to make improvements to the building, which he said was “decrepit,” the costs needed to be reflected in the rent.
“If you evaluate their business, everything about their rent amount and how they do business could work 10 years ago,” Coleman, 34, said. “Ten years down the road, because there were no rent increases, their business wasn’t forced to make necessary changes.”
Jadoonanan, who said she had a contentious relationship with the new ownership, and Thursday’s protesters said they believe Coleman is not concerned with what is being lost.
“They don’t have a vested interested in the people,” Jadoonanan said. “He just has a vested interest in his pocketbook.”
While Jadoonanan doesn’t have a new location pegged down, she would like to stay in south Minneapolis. Right now, she just wants to “go fishing and relax and regroup.”
“I just want to let everybody know that I’m really grateful for all the support and all the love,” she said. “I’m not going away that easy.”
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753