In the closing days of 2021, a “monumental” business deal between two notable Jewish families in the Twin Cities closed, and will result in a new restaurant coming to Minneapolis’ North Loop and marks the end of a 76-year-old family business.
Bill Ribnick sold the historic building at 224 North 1st Street that had housed Ribnick Luxury Outerwear to chef/restaurateur David Fhima. Fhima, who owns Fhima’s Minneapolis and will soon be opening bakeries in downtown Minneapolis, is hoping to open a new French brasserie in the space in the fall of 2022.
“We wanted, as a family during COVID, and the unrest of the city at the time, we wanted to stop talking about being better, and trying to put our words into deeds, and do something that was meaningful, and that created change,” Fhima said. “We wanted to really be impactful in what we were going to do.”
That work will start, Fhima said, in working with marginalized communities that have great stories and culture to share, like the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.
“We’re going to build a restaurant and we’re going to build a business that really takes advantage of what these incredible communities have to say, and the story that they have to share in their and their recipes and their food,” he said. “You can’t be talking food and not talk culture. Food is a culture.
“When you look at our African American community when you look at the Latino community, we’re looking at the indigenous community, when you look at all these communities, they bring a history and a culture to the table.”
Fhima said the plan is to work with local organizations such as the Sanneh Foundation, offer mentorship opportunities, paid internships, pay “way above living wage,” health care, and more.
Eli Fhima, the chef’s son who manages the front-of-house at Fhima’s Minneapolis, said that the family was betting big on a comeback for Minneapolis and the restaurant industry.
“I will admit, though, that fast-casual right now is winning,” the younger Fhima said. “And so, yeah, to double down on another fine dining establishment, it’s not because we’re naive. We really believe that the future of our industry is going to bounce back. The desire to be taken care of on the level that we’re gonna be taking care of people, entertaining people, the amount of integrity through our food. I don’t see a void in the market there.”
End of an era
While the Fhimas are excited with the possibilities that come from their planned restaurant, the sale marks the end of business for the Ribnick family. Bill Ribnick, the grandson of the founder who ran the business, said their last day operating was Dec. 31.
“The neighborhood is hot. It’s a valuable piece of property. And I’m ready to retire,” Ribnick said.
Ribnick had come close to selling more pre-pandemic where the site would’ve become a hotel.
“It got quiet for a while as people tried to sort through the world, and then David and I struck up a deal,” he said. “This has been in the process for a while, but it got sidetracked for a short while.”
Ribnick, while of course trying to make the best deal for him and his family’s interest, is heartened by the Fhimas’ plans.
“It makes me feel really good, that we’re not just destroying an old building or covering it up in putting another apartment building,” he said. “this feels like a feel-good project. It’s good for the Fhima family, it’s good for the neighborhood, and it’s good for the city. And I think with what he’s doing, it’ll be good for society. I think it’s good at all levels. So it makes me feel better, that he’s doing something that will benefit the community.”
The North Loop neighborhood – which Eli Fhima called “the cool table” – is one that Ribnick has seen undergo many transformations over the decades.
“We went from people asking if it was safe to ask if they could buy the building,” he said. “I’m sure my father who’s been dead for 30 years is looking down, smiling now saying, ‘I told you so.’
Ribnick said that the decision, while emotional, wasn’t made hastily.
“It’s a four-generation family business that’s come to an end,” he said. “But we have to be realistic and know that nothing is forever. That’s the realization of it. But that’s something that I thought long and hard about before this happened.”