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Minneapolis community comes together to raise funds to reopen iconic Band Box Diner

Owner Brad Ptacek closed his diner in Elliot Park at the beginning of the pandemic. He said there's an expensive checklist before he can reopen.

MINNEAPOLIS — An iconic Minneapolis diner needs a little help to get back on its feet.

Band Box Diner in Elliot Park is one of those places that takes you back.

If you step inside, it's a glimpse into the culture of the 1930’s.

Brad Ptacek has owned this historic landmark for more than 20 years. The way he puts it, it's the kind of place where anyone who comes in can be helpful.

"If something got broke, Bob down the line here would say 'I can go fix it' and he’d go fix it in the middle of the lunch rush," Ptacek said.

But the chairs and stools have sat empty for more than a year and a half because of the pandemic and unrest following the murder of George Floyd.

"In the cooking industry there’s a saying 'when in doubt throw it out,'" Ptacek said. He said he erred on the side of caution. Ptacek cleared out broken glass and patched up when necessary over the pandemic.

Besides, he was dealing with a lot at home. A wife and son figuring out their own daily battles.

"Being closed gave us an opportunity to deal with Heather and her cancer and our son and homeschooling," Ptacek said.

Heather had her last round of radiation for breast cancer Friday. So Ptacek has come around to re-opening. Only he said there’s a long and expensive checklist before that can happen.

"We’ll have to find another purveyor, we’ll have to fix up a lot of our plumbing that's been destroyed, we’d like to fix up the windows," Ptacek said. Not to mention, hiring staff.

That’s where Vanessa Haight, the executive director with the Elliot Park Neighborhood and Cassie Garner, director and co-founder of Gamut Gallery around the corner, come in. Garner said they asked Ptacek many times if they could help, but he refused until recently.

"After, I don’t know, 18 months after asking him those questions, Vanessa came to the gallery and was like, 'I just saw Brad and Heather they’re ready for the help!'" Garner said. "People don’t know the neighborhood, but know the Band Box, and the Band Box brings people into the neighborhood which then just helps build the community."

Garner said she gives credit to Band Box for finding that location in the Elliot Park neighborhood. She said she and her co-founder were looking for spaces for the gallery about six years ago when they were forced to relocate because of development. They took a break and stopped in to Band Box. Garner said they parked right in front of the open space that Gamut now occupies.

"Literally it’s the grease that holds us together, is the best way to summarize it," Garner said.

Haight adds there aren't many gathering spaces in the community.

"We don’t have a lot of restaurants so this is a place you go to see your neighbors where you go and talk to Brad and Heather because they are your neighbors and your friends," Haight said. "It’s really that place that builds community because it is community."

Band Box was designated a historic landmark in 2000. It was even in the original "Mighty Ducks" movie. Haight said that means everything has to be custom, which is even more expensive.

The GoFundMe page has raised more than $14,000 but more is needed for this place that has seen so much change, yet not at all when it comes to the people.

"It was always just us trying to get by and trying to roll with it and the community was always there for us," Ptacek said. He called the effort to help open his restaurant by the community, humbling. 

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