VIDEO: Sky's opening marks new chapter in Grand Forks fine dining
Almost everything about Sky's Fine Dining is new.
There's the new location overlooking DeMers Avenue and South Fourth Street, a new menu that updates the restaurant's offerings and even the new name.
"It's a business and marketing plan," said owner John "Sky" Manske.
But behind the scenes, the backbone of the restaurant that Manske took over as Sanders 1907 largely remains. Manske himself had worked as manager for the restaurant for around 15 years before buying it from Kim Holmes last year, and he brings with him chef Joe Hanson and lounge manager Richie West, whom he has worked with for 17 years and 25 years, respectively.
"Without my team, this would have never have happened," Manske said.
He also invited friend Pat Madigan to move from Washington, D.C., to be his general manager.
Sky's opened last month on the second floor of the Edgewood Corporate Plaza at 322 DeMers Ave. just a few weeks after Sanders closed its doors on South Third Street.
It marked the end of a challenging process for Manske, a first-time business owner who not only had to oversee the launch of his new restaurant but also managed the former location down the street.
But the opening also signals a new chapter in Grand Forks fine dining.
A 'handsome' building
Sky's opening represents the first time the Edgewood building, formerly known as the First National Bank building, has been fully occupied since the 1997 Red River flood. It was first constructed in 1915 and will celebrate its 100th anniversary next week.
"Many of Grand Forks' most handsome buildings, such as the City Hall, the U.S. Post Office, the Grand Forks County Courthouse and the Masonic Temple, date from this period of the city's highest architectural achievement," according to a 1981 North Dakota Cultural Resources Survey provided by Peg O'Leary, the Grand Forks Historical Preservation Commission coordinator.
A city brochure on the downtown's historic buildings calls it "an outstanding example of the Classical Revival style executed in a large commercial structure."
Manske said the Sky's space was "raw" when the remodeling project first started. The building was among those damaged in the flood, and First National Bank, now known as Alerus, moved across the street to the city-owned Corporate Center.
Rex Carlson, chief financial officer of the Edgewood Real Estate Investment Trust, which owns the building, said company executives imagined the 8,300 square-foot space would be ideal for a restaurant when they first bought it in 2012.
"It completes the building in a way that we always sort of envisioned that it would be," he said. "We're happy that that's what it ended up being because it's really beautiful."
The new space features 14-foot windows overlooking a busy downtown intersection. Customers are greeted by a bar and lounge area, with the rest of the seating arranged across the restaurant's horseshoe-like floor plan. Its walls are painted dark blue, a color that Manske said came to him in a dream.
"I wanted it to be dark and moody," he said. "I like it at night the best."
Manske first came to Sanders about 25 years ago, when he was managing the Urban Stampede coffee shop. Holmes called Manske a "great employee."
After trying to negotiate a sale about five years ago, Manske bought Sanders in October. Manske originally resisted a name change, but he eventually agreed and the new Sky's moniker went public a few days before it opened to the public.
In an interview this week, Holmes said Manske "wanted to do his own thing, and I respected that tremendously."
"He's got a beautiful location, a beautiful restaurant and the same crew that I had at Sanders," Holmes told the Herald after the new name was announced. "So I think it'll be just fantastic. I'm very excited for him."
Manske said they spent months making changes to their dinner offerings and added a pub menu for the Cloud 9 Lounge featuring appetizers, soups, pasta, salads, sandwiches and lahvosh. He also lowered prices about 15 to 20 percent.
"I need the millennials, I need the Gen Ys to want to come up here," Manske said.
He put the restaurant on OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation website.
That doesn't mean Manske is leaving behind any of the longtime customers who made Sanders a Grand Forks institution.
"We love everything about it," said Duaine Espegard, who said he and his wife Phyllis were patrons of Sanders. He called Sky's "the nicest restaurant in North Dakota."
Manske said he has learned a lot about business in the past year through hiring designers and contractors, managing finances and accomplishing the litany of other tasks that comes with owning a new restaurant. That's all the more impressive for a man who didn't own a computer 11 months ago.
Manske said he got help, including financially, from an unnamed "angel" in the background.
"There's a lot of help out there if you're a hardworking person," he said.