Father-and-son duo David and Eli Fhima have announced big plans to turn the former Ribnick Furs building in Minneapolis into a restaurant, speakeasy and event center.
"Restaurants are not the easiest business in the world," said longtime restaurateur David Fhima. "I've had my share of wonderful success and I've had my challenges. I wanted to make sure that we really did our homework."
Fhima estimates that 80% of the historic building, at 224 N. 1st St., will be restored — "It's stunning," he said — and the design will celebrate the existing raw elements.
The speakeasy will reside underground, where 12-foot ceilings are held up by thick, wooden beams that date back to the 1800s. The restaurant will occupy the street level, and the upper-level event center will feature restored wood floors, which also date back to the 1800s.
Also, 45 parking spaces come with the building, a boon for a neighborhood where finding a place to legally park a car is its own kind of "Hunger Games."
Before the building was even up for sale, Fhima had forged a relationship with the Ribnick family, namely Bill Ribnick, whose Ribnick Luxury Outerwear is closing at the end of the year after 76 years in business.
"We have a similar family background — like most Jews, we're tied to our dads and our mothers," Fhima said.
He saw the building and fell in love.
Fhima's other restaurant, the six-year-old eponymous Fhima's Minneapolis, has weathered a challenging year, like many others during the pandemic. In addition to contending with the sudden loss of downtown workers, who once filled the bar for after-work happy hours, and the absence of the pre-theater or concert crowd, the restaurant also sustained damage during the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd.
Rather than retreating, Fhima said he's doubling down on the city that has sustained his family. (The Fhimas also will open Mother Dough bakery and cafe in the Capella Building in downtown Minneapolis this spring.)
"I've built a fortune and lost a fortune and built it back again," he said. "This happened because this city and the community has rallied behind my family."
The new, yet-unnamed restaurant will draw menu inspiration from grandmotherly recipes, and staff contributions will help create comforting dishes in an elegant surrounding.
"This is a modern American cuisine with an international flare," Fhima said.
Moulin Rouge is the ownership company that bought the building; Good Food Is Right is the restaurant ownership group, as well as the guiding spirit of the venture. Mentorship opportunities and community events are part of the plan, with a goal to uplift the community, including local residents and people of color.
"It's not a privilege to eat well, it's a right," he said. "We in restaurants have made it a privilege."