Rainbow Chinese, 2739 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis.

by Carissa Thomas

YOU CAN EAT YOUR WAY around the globe when you visit Eat Street in Minneapolis. A hungry visitor can experience diverse cuisines offered within a few blocks on Nicollet Avenue South, home to more than 50 restaurants. Attracted by food and many cultures, diners also experience a taste of history with the restaurants dotted along the avenue. Two of these restaurants will be making some exterior improvements, thanks to a recently won $40,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

The Black Forest Inn and Rainbow Chinese Restaurant are recipients of the 2022 Backing Small Historic Restaurants grant, developed in partnership with American Express to provide aid in recovery amid ongoing challenges related to the pandemic. Following guidelines of the grant, both restaurants will use the funds to make exterior improvements such as window replacements and upgrades to signage and building decor — all things that contribute to beautifying their beloved neighborhood. 

Black Forest Inn sits on the corner of East 26th Street and Nicollet Avenue South where it has been in business as a renowned German cuisine spot for more than 55 years. In 1965, Gerhard Christ, a salesman living in Milwaukee with a route that included Minneapolis, spotted a place to open a restaurant. With his brother Erich, the two of them pooled together $500 each and began the family business. Joanne Greimel, a University of Minnesota student at the time, picked up a job as a server and in 1968 she and Erich were married. The couple bought out Gerhard’s share of the business in 1970 and together continue to co-own the business while daughters Erica and Gina manage staff and daily operations. 

Lining the west side of the Black Forest Inn is a mural which had become faded and is plagued by graffiti. Five new windows will be installed there to create a more open space with a clear view of Eat Street. Gina said the cost of these improvements will require the entirety of the grant plus additional funds at the business’s expense.

History buffs need not worry, however. Installing modern windows will create minimal interference with the historic atmosphere. The German-style painted art will continue to dance along the walls and ceiling, and aided by ambient lighting, diners will be transported to historic Germany with the first bite of schnitzel. 

New in-progress interior photo of the Black Forest Inn,
1 East 26th Street, Minneapolis.

Just a five-minute walk south from Black Forest Inn is another Eat Street winner, whose East Asian cuisine takes the stage. Rainbow Chinese Restaurant has been in business on Nicollet Avenue since 1987. Owner Tammy Wong uses her knowledge of Minnesota’s different growing seasons and the foods the land produces for fresh, local ingredients that enrich the flavors in her iconic dishes. Dine-in services are currently on a COVID pandemic pause, but locals experience their favorite dishes by ordering takeout. Step inside the restaurant to retrieve a pickup order and you’ll be able to study the coffered ceiling painted a vibrant red that casts its warm hue over walls adorned with scenery of Chinese piers surrounded by calming waters. The exterior of the restaurant also begs admiration. The entire north side of the building displays large curved block letters spelling Minneapolis, Eat Street, and Rainbow Chinese, as well as Tammy’s name tagged in the top right corner — all accompanied by images of friendly cartoon panda bears. Tammy already had plans to replace the main entrance sign and awning, but she shared that there is always a list of things to do when you own a building and that the grant funds will go toward those improvements as well as beautifying the neighborhood.

Labor and supply shortages are still a challenge for the Black Forest Inn and Rainbow Chinese Restaurant, but both restaurants pour out gratitude for their loyal customers who continued to show support throughout the most trying times of the pandemic. These loyal customers alerted both businesses through Facebook about the 2022 Backing Small Historic Restaurants Grant, encouraging the owners to apply. Having two winning restaurants along Nicollet Avenue South in Minneapolis — the avenue known as Eat Street — exemplifies the local love that is reciprocated through food, good company, and a solid sense of community.


Carissa Thomas is an associate librarian and public historian dedicated to expanding traditional historical narratives and connecting communities with educational tools. She has worked with museums and historical societies across the Twin Cities metro and has engaged in community work led by Indigenous organizations. She likes to hug trees and hike with her dog.   


SOURCES

Backing Historic Small Restaurants. National Trust for Historic Preservation. July 7, 2022, savingplaces.org/historicrestaurants.

“Cooking with Rainbow Chinese Restaurant,” Fox 9 online, July 24, 2022, fox9.com/video/1096678

Cara Letofsky. “Eat Street History and Impact.” Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, July 11, 2019.

mccdmn.org/images/PDFs/mccd- july-11-eat-street-presentation.pdf

Amy Rea. “The History of Eat Street,” CBS News online, CBS Broadcasting Inc., September 20, 2017. www.cbsnews.com/minnesota/news/the-history-of-eat-street/

Gina and Erica Christ interview by Carissa Thomas. July 29, 2022.

Tammy Wong interview by Carissa Thomas. August 5, 2022.

National Trust for Historic Preservation: Backing Historic Small Restaurants Grant Program

During the pandemic, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with American Express, offered financial aid to struggling restaurants with their Backing Historic Small Restaurants Grant Program. Twenty-five restaurants received $40,000 grants to improve, upgrade, and preserve their exterior physical spaces and online operations. 

In 2022, the program focused on small restaurants in business for at least 25 years that operate in historic buildings or neighborhoods. Twenty-five restaurants were awarded $40,000 to create or update outdoor seating, address deferred maintenance, and fund general operating and marketing costs.

Of the thousands of applications received, two recipients are from Hennepin County! Hennepin History Museum extends our congratulations to both restaurants and their hardworking families.

  • Antoine’s Restaurant, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • B&H Dairy Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant, New York, New York
  • Black Forest Inn, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • China King’s Restaurant, Leesburg, Virginia
  • El Adobe Mexican Grill, Atoka, Oklahoma
  • The Glen Rock Mill Inn, Glen Rock, Pennsylvania
  • Golden Burro Cafe, Leadville, Colorado
  • The Harmony Inn, Harmony, Pennsylvania
  • Hi-Way Cafe, Vinita, Oklahoma
  • The Historic Magnolia House, Greensboro, North Carolina
  • The Irish Rover, Louisville, Kentucky
  • Khalil’s Middle Eastern Restaurant, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • La Segunda Bakery, Tampa, Florida
  • Max’s Taphouse, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Miller’s Soul Food, Dublin, Georgia
  • Mr. Henry’s, Washington, DC
  • Nancy’s Silver Café, Silver City, New Mexico
  • Penn Brewery and Restaurant, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Rainbow Chinese Restaurant, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Saratoga Restaurant, Terre Haute, Indiana
  • Schwabl’s Restaurant, Buffalo, New York
  • The Seaside, Hilo, Hawai’i
  • Stamps Super Burgers, Jackson, Mississippi
  • Teshima Restaurant, Honalo, Hawai’i
  • Welton Street Café, Denver, Colorado