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When John Rimarcik was a student at DeLaSalle High School in the 1950s, he walked home among warehouses long past their manufacturing heydays.

"It was nothing. Vacant, windowless buildings," he told the Business Journal in a 2016 interview.

He eventually acquired and invested in many of those buildings — and some of the restaurants within them, instigating a renaissance of what today are the thriving North Loop and St. Anthony Main areas of Minneapolis.

Rimarcik, a visionary restaurateur and commercial real estate investor who owned and operated some 50 restaurants during a career that spanned 60 years, died Dec. 11 at his home in Minneapolis, from brain cancer. He was 84.

Rimarcik bought his first restaurant in 1964 when he was 25, the Peacock Cafe, and went on to launch or revitalize eateries in Minneapolis, such as Waters, Rachel's, Dante, Dirty Face Hamburgers, Cafe Havana, Tubby's and more.

He later leaned into preserving landmark restaurants that struck a nostalgic chord with diners. In 1974, he acquired the then-40-year-old Convention Grill in Edina. Through the years, he added restaurants in Rochester, La Crosse, Wis., and Duluth to his portfolio.

But he did most of his business in Minneapolis. He owned Dinkytown's Annie's Parlour; the 1906 saloon Monte Carlo; Pracna on Main, then the oldest bar in Minneapolis; the Art Deco gem Paramount Cafe; the St. Anthony Main Theatre; former burlesque house Runyon's; and the Kitty Cat Klub.

"Along with being a skilled and tenacious restaurateur, John was an urban visionary," said former Star Tribune restaurant critic Rick Nelson. "He was investing in the North Loop before anyone thought to call it the North Loop. With the Monte Carlo, Runyon's and other properties, John laid the foundation for the neighborhood's role as the Twin Cities dining epicenter."

He also collected remnants from restaurants that had closed, including the bar and wood-carved frieze from the legendary Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale, which was demolished in the 1980s. He kept that piece in a 20,000-square-foot warehouse of restaurant artifacts until 2022, when it was reinstalled at the Minneapolis Club, where he had been a member since he was 18.

"We had 31 meat slicers," said Tony Rimarcik, John's son and business partner. "He likes to buy things. He doesn't like to sell things. That includes the real estate. And it's proved incredibly successful."

Born March 27, 1939, in Chicago, Rimarcik was adopted by Charles and Angela Rimarcik, and raised in Minneapolis. He graduated from DeLaSalle High School in 1957 and studied journalism at the University of Minnesota, working as a copy boy for both the Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune newspapers.

He had worked in restaurants since he was 12, but as an extrovert, Rimarcik pursued a career as a showman when he was in his teens and 20s, first in stage magic and comedy, then in broadcast as a Top 40 disc jockey under the pseudonym DJ Johnny Vincent.

"Hope, Crosby, Berle and Como all have characteristics that I admire," he told the Star Tribune in 1957. "Maybe I could adopt some of the best from each of them."

As a businessman, Rimarcik was known for his doggedness.

"His biggest phrase may be, 'Time is everything,' " his son said. "I would say he's a little bit on the undiagnosed ADHD spectrum. When he thinks of something and it gets in there, then it starts to recur."

As a restaurateur, he was a preservationist who also put his own stamp on places Minneapolitans already knew and loved. The Monte Carlo, which was around 75 years old when he acquired it in 1982, was in a remote part of the warehouse and light manufacturing district. During Rimarcik's tenure, the area roared back to life.

Rimarcik added the now-famous dry rub wings to the menu. He said he devised the recipe as an alternative to messy Buffalo sauce, which was rising in popularity in the early 1980s.

The Convention Grill, which was founded by a pair of metalworking brothers in 1934, was a one-room old-fashioned burger and malt shop. After Rimarcik took over in 1974, he gradually acquired the neighboring businesses, expanding it into a full-fledged diner known for its chicken soup, coleslaw, Plazaburger and tulip-glass malts.

The Convention Grill has remained closed since the first restaurant shutdown of the pandemic, undergoing extensive structural renovations over the past three years.

During the closure, the family has fielded intense interest from regulars about a reopening date. Rimarcik understood that customers had deep connections to his longtime restaurants, which were there for generations of celebrations and traditions.

"It's hard to estimate that sense of nostalgia and ownership and belonging. It's really humbling," said Tony Rimarcik.

Construction was completed, and in recent weeks, Rimarcik was urging his son to reopen Convention Grill, along with Annie's Parlour, as soon as possible. They made plans to launch a limited takeout menu of just shakes and malts before the end of the year.

Last week, with Rimarcik's health failing, Tony Rimarcik explained why he was pushing to reopen a malt shop in December.

"Dad will never see these places," he said, tearing up. "But I'd like to be able to tell him that they're open."

Rimarcik is preceded in death by his first wife, Adele, and son, Jeffrey. Survivors include his wife, JuLee, and sons Tony (Marta Bowman), Tom (Colleen), all of Minneapolis, and Charlie (Jessica) Egan, as well as grandchildren Griffin and Harrison, all of St. Charles, Ill. Services will be held Dec. 21 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.