After five years waiting on the launchpad, Galaxy Drive In in St. Louis Park is set to blast off again.
The seasonal drive-up restaurant, one of only a handful in the Twin Cities, will reopen in mid-April. Owner Steve Schussler posted the notice Wednesday on Facebook and had more than 175 responses in 15 minutes. He purchased the restaurant, formerly known as Wagner’s Drive-In, in 2012 and then closed it in 2015.
“I’ve been getting questions from people almost every day for five years asking, ‘Why don’t you sell it or reopen it?’ ” Schussler said. “I was looking for the right operator who I could trust and feel good about.”
Enter Mark Saliterman, chairman of VisionBank in St. Louis Park, owner of Clays restaurant in Rockford, Minn., and a commercial real estate developer.
“I am a backroom guy,” he said. “I can be very critical of food and service. I test foods myself and I work with the chef on the menus.”
James Awe, executive chef at Clays, will team with Saliterman. Both have skin in the game.
“They signed a lease, are paying the utilities, and brought their own food people,” Schussler said. “It makes a huge difference. They have a big incentive to make it work.”
The two are overhauling the menu and experimenting with a few decadent temptations, such as a fried banana split sprinkled with moon pies.
Awe’s creativity at Clays, including kids’ meals served on Frisbees, fit perfectly with Schussler’s playful nature. Giant-sized chess and checkers sets occupy patrons at Galaxy while they wait for food.
And dogs get free ice-cream cones. “Vanilla, not chocolate, because dogs shouldn’t have chocolate,” Schussler adds.
The Golden Valley-based founder of Rainforest Cafe, Schussler has also developed restaurant concepts Yak & Yeti, T-Rex and the Boathouse on Disney properties in Orlando, Fla. He also had a chain of nightclubs in the 1980s called Jukebox Saturday Night, including one in downtown Minneapolis.
“I like to specialize in whimsical, family and pets, and this place screams that,” Schussler said of the Galaxy.
Besides 20 drive-up spaces for vehicles, the restaurant has outdoor seats for 90. As many menu items as possible will be made from scratch.
“That’s almost unheard of in the drive-in business,” Schussler said. “People come once for the wow and then come back for the food.”
The restaurant stumbled in the past, Schussler said, when the food wasn’t up to par and wait times for food exceeded 30 minutes. Awe said the restaurant aims for a standard wait time of 18 minutes or less.
In 2016, Schussler put the restaurant at 3712 S. Quebec Av. up for sale but for only three days.
“I got sick to my stomach after I put in on the market,” he said. “I had seller’s remorse without selling it. There’s a passion here that I couldn’t give up. It’s got retro colors and a vintage vibe. People ride up on skateboards and bikes, often with a dog in tow.”
The place needed little work to get it ready. Even in the dormant years, the lawn was still cut, trees were trimmed and flowers planted. Its neon lights glowed every night as a quiet homage to the 1950s.
Schussler said he spent $130,000 a year to maintain the Galaxy while it was closed. “It was a neighborly thing to do, but it took a person like Mark [Saliterman] to ask, ‘What’s this place doing empty?’ ” he said.
Besides the restaurant, a food truck purchased by Awe and Saliterman will also be on hand for customer orders.
“This whole thing started because Steve and I both like to have fun,” Saliterman said.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633