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Observers in Minneapolis' Seward neighborhood have noticed some activity around the former Birchwood Cafe, including a new coat of paint on the landmark restaurant that has sat vacant since 2021. They've also spotted a van with a clue: a wrapping that says Peoples Organic.

No, the health food franchise isn't opening here, at 3311 E. 25th St. Instead, its owners will launch a new business this spring called Darling.

Juell and Ray Roberts, the owners of Peoples Organic — and the former personal chefs to Prince — make up one-half of the ownership of Darling, along with Mike Smith, a real estate agent and owner of Hi-Lo Diner, and Jeff Zajac. The group bought the 4,144-square-foot building last month for $1.15 million.

The Birchwood, Tracy Singleton's groundbreaking farm-to-table restaurant, went up for sale last year, though it had gone dark two years before that, closing abruptly after what Singleton called a "labor dispute," in which three-quarters of the staff was laid off.

For the 25 years prior, the Birchwood pushed forward the trend of tapping into seasonal and locally produced ingredients, and it became known for its savory waffle, among other brunch-friendly fare.

"We're just filling the void," Juell Roberts said. "I was a huge Birchwood fan back in the day, and Tracy was a pioneer, and it's kind of just been sitting there, which is really sad."

When Darling opens, potentially in late April, chef Ray Roberts will kick off with breakfast and lunch. Dinner may be added in the future.

"Who we are is very much healthy food, but also Minnesota comfort," Juell Roberts said.

This is the first new venture for the couple since the death of Prince in 2016. They served as his personal chef for the last three-and-a-half years of his life, with Ray doing the cooking and Juell baking and serving as a host.

"It was honestly the best thing in the world," she said. "There's no greater joy than that job. We worked insane hours, and I was even pregnant for part of the time, and I don't know how we did it but it was just so much fun."

Darling gives Ray a chance to flex his creativity again. "This restaurant will be very chef-focused and fluid with the menu," Juell said.

As the building transforms, neighbors have been eager for details. "There's been so much joy in the neighborhood," Juell said. "I think I have like 50 new contacts in my phone. Every time we're there, someone's popping in."

Taking over such a hallowed space is "heavy," she added. "We're very mindful. We make a lot of choices with that in mind, like how we even treat the building." With Smith's interior design help, they're brightening the space with cream colors, among other cosmetic changes.

"We're trying to make it look different, because everyone has a Birchwood story," Juell Roberts said. "And there's a lot of good there. We just want to make sure that we bring all the good back."