When replacing a beloved community gathering spot, you might as well go for something spectacular.
The owners of Freetime Restaurants LLC, which recently purchased J. Grundy’s Rueb ‘N’ Stein in downtown Northfield, believe they’re doing just that with a full-fledged remodel of the three buildings. Plans for the final product include two bars, two patios, a restaurant with a wood-fire grill and an entertainment space.
The name of the new spot, an ode to the place many Northfielders have collected and convened: Reunion.
“Rueb ‘N’ Stein, Corner Bar, they were here for almost 50 years,” said Freetime co-owner Brett Reese who previously owned a portion of what’s making up the new restaurant. “Now we hope to take it another 50 years.”
Reunion will seek to take advantage of the lower and upper floors of all three buildings, which are narrow and long. Plans are for the space to flow from one section to the next with openings in the walls to make it feel like one, multi-activity business.
“We want to get that feeling of flow — that there is so much more than that one area [customers are] in,” said Chad Jenkinson, Freetime co-owner and acting/opening general manager for Reunion.
The northernmost building at the corner of Division and Fifth streets (501 Division St.), will have a bar in the lower level. Most of the second floor, which previously served as apartment space, will be exposed to the ceiling, except for the back, which will include bathrooms and a lounge area with a balcony overlooking the lower bar.
The middle building, 503 Division St., will feature a restaurant with an open-kitchen wood-fire grill and oven, serving American fare, like steaks and seafood, plus shareable dishes. The upper level will feature a second bar with a lounge feel, including low tables and comfortable seating.
The southernmost building, 505 Division St., is planned to include overflow and private event seating for the restaurant in the lower level, with extra kitchen space and bathrooms in the back. An event and music space, including a stage and dance floor, is planned for the upper level.
Beyond the interior spaces, the team also hopes to create a two-level patio option. The upper patio will occupy the existing deck behind the middle building, while the lower patio will take the space behind the northernmost building.
“The old saying is you can’t be everything to everybody, but we’re going to try,” Reese said. “We’re going to capture the locals and families, the college students, staff and alumni, retirees, visitors. We have all these different spaces.”
The front of the building will also see a makeover, meaning no more maroon Rueb ‘N’ Stein awnings. The buildings will keep their character, as required in the Northfield Historic District, but each one will carry its own unique look, according to the developers.
In addition to the five owners of Freetime — Reese, Jenkinson, Jennifer Sawyer, Greg Heymans (Hogan Brothers owner) and Joshua Drivdahl — architect Dave Medin, who helped design the Rueb ‘N’ Stein space in 1969, is helping design the project now. Two investors from the Twin Cities area are also assisting with the project: Steve McQueen and Dan Nepp. They advised the team to strip the late-1800s and early-1900s buildings back to their roots.
“They said ‘Take it back to the bare bones,’ so that’s what we did,” Reese said.
Over the last couple months since Freetime purchased the buildings, workers have been demo-ing the interior spaces. Now, century-old stone walls are displayed proudly, layers of ripped out flooring reveal the original wood base and opened up rooms highlight the size of the structures. Through demolition, the group even discovered some gems, like a black-and-white James Taylor and Carly Simon poster hidden behind a refinished ceiling.
Northfield Construction is taking over from here, turning plans into reality. Freetime expects Reunion to open this fall, but there’s a lot of work left to do.
When the door does open (the main entrance will be on the corner building), the team hopes residents will feel both at home and surrounded by something completely new. It’s a lot to ask of a space, but the developers believe they have the place to make it happen.
They also believe that Northfield is a community that can support and sustain such an emphatic project. And while Reunion will provide another spot for restaurant- and bar-goers, and entertainment seekers, the group says it won’t take away from the town’s other offerings.
“This is going to add to the market, here,” Reese said. “It’s going to be a place that can keep people in Northfield and bring them to town.”
The Rueb is no more, but Freetime says ‘Let Reunion fill the void.’
“I think the Rueb has been, forever and a day, the people’s restaurant,” said Freetime co-owner Sawyer. “So I’m excited to bring something a little more updated — with a more modern menu — that can continue being the living room of our downtown.”