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26 posts from January 2012

January 31, 2012

New dance partners - 2 dance studios now in step together

In a display of fancy footwork, a new dancing partner has sashayed into Rochester's Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

The Rochester International Dance Studio is now dancing side-by-side with Fred Astaire at 1751 U.S. 52 N. Owner Terri Allred moved her International Dance Studio from 3270 19th St. N.W. earlier this month.

This move puts Allred back in step with the ballroom studio owner, Andrea Mirenda. Allred originally began teaching Middle Eastern dance in Rochester on Mirenda's dance floor.

Intdancestudio1In 2009, Allred then began teaching classes in her own studio on 19th Street, near the Rochester Athletic Club.
"We were in a kind of starter studio. When we started looking for more studio space, Andrea and I decided it would be a really good match for us to share space," she says.

The pairing is possible because Fred Astaire has two dance studio rooms and it usually offers most of it courses and one-on-one instruction on weekday evenings. The International Dance Studio offers many morning and afternoon courses as well as weekend courses.

"Both studios are doing as much schedule-wise, if not more," Mirenda says. "It makes everything so much more energetic."
The studios are offering an eight-week pass that allows dance students to take a mix of classes from both studios. They also plan on offering a new membership program with unlimited classes for a monthly fee, like at a health club.

The Rochester International Dance Studio has scheduled a free open house and a pre-Valentine's Day show on Feb. 11. The open house will run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. will include demonstrations, entertainment, refreshments, door prizes, henna and more. At 7 p.m., the professional dance troupe, the Shaia Dance Collective, will perform their annual “Be My Habibi” Valentine’s Day show.

January 26, 2012

The Nile is flowing in Rochester

Here's a little from my column in today's Post-Bulletin PLUS an on-the-scene video clip of me nattering on about it.

For the all of the details, check out the print edition of the Post-Bulletin.


Rochester fans of African cuisine have been asking me one question all of this tropical winter.  

When will the Nile Restaurant in northwest Rochester open? I now finally can answer that.

The Nile Restaurant started cooking Ethiopian dishes on Tuesday at 2711 Commerce Drive N.W., off of West Circle Drive. That's the former home of The Clay Oven restaurant, which closed last year.

It seats about 30. The staff is still fine-tuning the menu and other things, but it is open and serving recipes from the East African country.

The Nile also offers a full bar. The owner has not found a supplier for Ethiopian beer and wine yet, but he is working on it.

For those not familiar with Ethiopian cuisine, many of the dishes are variations of a spicy vegetable and meat stew called wat. Wat is usually served with a soft pancake-like bread called injera.

January 25, 2012

Window maker exec on how her business weathers bad economy

I feel compelled to confess that I did not have very high expectations when I walked into the Rochester Area Builders meeting last night to cover the president of Marvin Windows talk about the economy.

However, I quickly upgraded my attitude as Susan Marvin began her engaging and interesting presentation.

Here's part of what I wrote for today's paper. Thanks to Mike Pruett of MLT for the pics.

People, community and commitment are the basic building blocks to create a foundation for a business to weather any economic storm and even grow during tough times.

DSC_0663Susan Marvin, president of the popular and successful Marvin Windows and Doors of Warroad, Minn, shared her 100-year-old, family-owned company's philosophy at the Rochester Area Builders annual meeting Tuesday night.

"We serve all of our stakeholders — our employees, our customers and the community," she told the attentive crowd of more than 200 at the Rochester International Events Center.

Marvin and her straightforward approach to business and opinions on the economy hit the national stage in the fall, when the New York Times wrote about her and the international window-making company based in a small Minnesota town of just 1,700 people.

The story generated an "incredible response" across the country and soon Marvin was appearing on CNN, Bloomberg Television and even President Obama discussing the window-making company during a speech.

"It is a story people were hungry to hear," she said.

While she describes a simple business approach, Marvin acknowledges that is not easy one.

"The last few years have been very tough. The economy went into recession and the home building industry went into a depression, one deeper than the Great Depression, with unemployment in our industry hitting 30 percent at one point," she said.

While her family's company was in a very strong position with money on hand and no debt when the worst of the home construction slump started in 2009, she and her siblings realized they had to make some changes.

"We realized immediately that we had to do everything differently," she said.
The Marvin family's first decision was a key one. The company would not cut any employees.

"While a layoff would have been easier, the community would have been devastated," she told the crowd. "We kept the people, but cut everything else — wages, bonuses, travel reimbursements, 401(k)s — everything that didn't contribute to the bottom line."

Marvin Windows employs about 4,300 people, 2,000 of whom work in the small northern Minnesota town of Warroad, where her grandfather founded a lumber yard in 1904.

The town and the company are intertwined. In fact, her father originally turned the family lumberyard to making windows during World War II to help create jobs for returning GIs.

"The strength of the company is the community. It is … an incredible relationship," Marvin said.

However, cutting expenses to the bone to keep from letting workers go was not easy.

"It was a team effort, though not everyone liked it. But they were willing to do that rather than see their neighbor lose their job," she said.

Keeping the workforce intact was not just good for Warroad. The Marvins see it as good business.

"Retention of talent is key. Experience matters," she said.

IBM/ Xbox chatter about system-on-a-chip 'Oban'

Here's a tidbit of unconfirmed speculation on about IBM's work on the processor (said to be nicknamed "Oban") for next generation of Microsoft's Xbox.

Remember the brains of the first Xbox (as well as Nintendo's Wii and PlayStation) were created right here at IBM's Rochester campus.

Xbox-3601I can add to the pile of unofficial IBM/Xbox buzz by throwing out that a local fifth-hand casual source says they heard this Xbox will be voice-activated.

And it is worth noting that the new incarnation of Nintendo's gaming system to be called Wii U is also in development here.

Here's some from the piece:

According to a new rumour, IBM and Global Foundries are hard at work on the main processor for the next-generation Xbox.

Reportedly codenamed 'Oban', the processor is said to be a System-on-a-Chip (SoC) - a 32nm processor that incorporates a PowerPC CPU and an ATI Southern Islands GPU - basically a modified version of the 7000 series GPUs.

Fudzilla reports that Microsoft put the two companies to work on the new chip in December last year.

The site's 'sources' say a 2012 release is therefore unlikely, pitching 2013 as a more likely year for MS to make its next-gen move, with a possible announcement before the end of the year.

The report also speculates that MS could be ready to start handing out development kits as early as March or April.

January 23, 2012

Holiday time in downtown Roch.

It is a Holiday in downtown Rochester today and I'm not talking about a snow day.

01232012holidayinndowntownsignIt looks like the months of renovation work have paid off for the 170-room hotel in the Med City's downtown. After a year as an independent hotel, the Holiday Inn sign is going up.

This is at the Rochester City Centre Hotel, which was a Holiday Inn Express until it went independent in Dec. 2010.

Mike Bhatka, who owns the hotel, did major renovations to convert it into a full-service Holiday Inn hotel.

To get the name, the hotel had to bring back the amenities needed to be a full-service Holiday Inn versus an "Express" property. "We have to renovate the pool, restaurant and bar as well as upgrade the rooms some," said Bhatka in the spring.

Those features were shut down in 2005, when it was changed into a Holiday Inn Express by the hotel's former owner, Sunstone Properties Inc. Bhatka took control of the hotel in 2006.

Thanks yet again to Jim Miner for spotting this.

Mayo Clinic-linked med device firm close to FDA OK

Here's a little from an interestng piece by Lindsay Patton on about Torax Medical's anti-acid reflux device.

Mayo Clinic helped launch Torax in 2003 and Mayo Medical Ventures has invested in the company in the past.

John Deedrick, a Rochester venture capitalist who previously worked with Mayo Clinic, is also on Torax's board of directors.


A FDA panel has given unanimous support to LINX, an implantable device to treat chronic and severe acid reflux. That means LINX is one step closer to being available for US patients.

TORAX_twitter_picThe LINX Reflux Management System is a flexible ring of titanium magnetic beads. It's implanted on the lower end of the esophagus to prevent stomach acid and food from rising.

The magnetic attraction between the beads work to resist the gastric pressure that causes acid reflux. But when people are eating, it allows food and liquids to pass into the stomach normally.

LINX is produced by Torax Medical, a medical device company based in Minnesota. The device has already been on the market in some European countries for two years.


LINX is not recommended for patients who need MRI scans, due to the magnetic nature of the beads.

Torax plans a follow-up study of 200 patients to test LINX's long-term safety and effectiveness.

Long-time dealership changes direction; new name pulls into Roch.

Thanks to the ever-alert man-about-town Jim Miner for the pic of the CarHop sign.

A long-time Rochester used-car dealership is changing focus, paving the way for a new auto sales company to drive into the Med City.

01-01-2012kinsellasFamily-owned Kinsella's Auto Sales is looking for a new location after leasing its showroom at 1503 U.S. 52 N. to CarHop, a national chain of used car dealerships.

"We're going in a little different direction," says John Kinsella, owner of Kinsella's. "We're looking at more of a focus on the Internet and specialty vehicles."

Building on the dealership's long relationship with Rochester customers, the plan is to focus more on tracking down specific models of luxury and utility vehicles for clients. However, they will probably also still have a used-car lot somewhere in the city.

01232012carhopjk"The Kinsella family has been in the car business in Rochester for 40 years, and that is not changing," he says. "Kinsella's will remain in business, just in a different location."

While Kinsella's is driving down a new road, CarHop is revving up its first location in southeastern Minnesota.

Based in Minnetonka, the credit specialist has about 50 used-car dealerships in 13 states, including eight locations in Minnesota.

"We specialize in helping car buyers with poor or no credit to get them driving," says Bruce Hutchinson, CarHop's vice-president of marketing. "We really focus not only on the vehicle sale, but on the customer's success in completing their loan so they can improve their credit rating."

Look for CarHop's Rochester manager Jordon Whitney to open the doors of the new Med City location on Monday. It should have about three people on staff.

"We're growing rapidly," Hutchinson says. "We're very excited to be expanding our coverage into Rochester, which represents a key area of the state."

January 20, 2012

IRS on move to make way for Mayo Clinic to expand

Here's my follow-up on the move of Rochester's IRS office:

Sometimes government sources come through with more details than expected.

The U.S. General Services Administration says that Rochester's Internal Revenue Service office is moving because Mayo Clinic plans to expand into the IRS's current space.

Prop_brackenridgeI reported Thursday that a building permit shows that the IRS is moving from the third floor of the Brackenridge Skyway Plaza at 21 Second St. S.W. to the City Centre commercial complex at 310 S. Broadway.

Questions to the IRS about details of the move were passed on the General Services Administration in Washington, D.C.

Deborah K. Ruiz of the GSA responded to the request with an email. To the question of why the IRS is moving from the Brakenridge Plaza, she responded:
"The current space was originally considered for procurement, but we were informed by … Bishop Management that the Mayo Clinic needed our space for expansion and no other viable space was available at the current location."

Mayo Clinic already leases office space on the first and second floors of the building. It is unclear what Mayo will use the IRS space for, although I am asking clinic officials about it.

The Rochester office of the IRS encompasses much of the third floor of the Brackenridge Plaza. That puts it a level up from Newt's Express in the skyway. It has been there for 22 years.
The tax agency moved into about 5,100 square feet of space there in 1990 when it left the nearby Broadway Hall building at 102 S. Broadway.

Ruiz provided other details about the move.

The IRS will move into 6,074-square-feet of space on the second floor of the City Centre complex probably in spring 2012, the GSA says. The lease term will be 10 years, seven years firm.

The Rochester building permit application to construct the IRS office space in the City Centre estimates the value of project about $215,000.

The Rochester office covers 11 southeastern Minnesota counties from the Mississippi River to Interstate 35 and north as far as Red Wing.

January 19, 2012

Biz After Hours tonight, politics Friday

Here's a quick reminder of a couple business networking and informational events coming up tonight and Friday.

I hear a scavanger hunt is slated for tonight's bash at Olmsted National Bank, so watching the Med City's business leaders scurrying around the building is probably reason enough to stop by.

And of course, there will be the food, a cash bar and business networking. I plan on being there, so stop me and tell me what local business news I've missed or messed up lately. Heh.

Both events are sponsored by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.


Business After Hours, a monthly business networking event sponsored by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, is scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Olmsted National Bank, Suite 101, 975 34 Ave. N.W. Olmsted National is co-hosting the event with the Crown Restaurant & Lounge.


• The Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce
is sponsoring a breakfast preview of the 2012 Minnesota Legislative session with state lawmakers from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Rochester Marriott Hotel at 101 First Ave. S.W. Officials scheduled to take part in the event include: Deputy Majority Leader Sen. Geoff Michel; Majority Leader Sen. David Senjem; Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen: Sen. Carla Nelson, Rep. Tina Liebling, Rep. Kim Norton, Rep. Duane Quam and Rep. Mike Benson. The cost is $25 for member and $35 for non-members.

January 18, 2012

Old Country Buffet to close 81 restaurants, files bankruptcy

The corporate parent of Old Country Buffet announced today that it is going into bankruptcy for a second time and it will close 81 restaurants.

No word on what locations will be axed and pack up their sneeze guards.

Of course, Rochester has an OCB in the TJ Maxx Plaza & More Plaza. It lived through the last bankruptcy round of closings four years ago, so it probably has good odds this time.

Other media sources are reporting that the list of Buffets to close will possibly be released Thursday. So I'll keep an eye on that.

Here's a little from today's press release:

Buffets, Inc. announced today a restructuring agreement that it has reached with senior lenders holding 83% of its senior debt, which will recapitalize the Company while eliminating virtually all of the Company's approximately $245 million of outstanding debt. The recapitalization will provide the Company with resources to invest in its proven reconcepting program, as well as other restaurant and profitability improvement initiatives.


Under the proposed plan, the Company will eliminate its outstanding debt of approximately $245 million, as well as annual interest payments of more than $30 million. The pre-negotiated plan of reorganization anticipates the Company's existing lenders will receive 100 percent of the Company's new common stock upon emergence.

As part of the restructuring plan, the Company expects to promptly close 81 underperforming restaurants, representing approximately 16 percent of its nearly 500 restaurants nationally. "The decision to close these underperforming restaurants, though difficult, resulted from a comprehensive, store-by-store analysis of financial performance, occupancy costs, market conditions and the long-term strategy of our reorganized restaurant portfolio," commented Mike Andrews, Buffets CEO. In addition to the immediate restaurant closings, the Company is seeking more favorable lease arrangements with its landlords at other restaurant locations. To the extent those leases cannot be modified on acceptable terms, additional restaurant closings may be required.