Dave Cossetta said he would be hard-pressed to think of a bigger weekend for his century-old West Seventh Street restaurant and Italian grocery and deli, or for St. Paul.
"It's kind of a tsunami of people to St. Paul in one day," Cossetta said Saturday, Jan. 26, during a jammed 3 p.m. pre-dinner "lull" that drew several hundred patrons and gawkers to his recently expanded eatery.
Cossetta estimated that Saturday alone could draw him record crowds -- anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 customers -- thanks to an unusual confluence of downtown events. From Grand Avenue to Mankato, restaurants and retailers located farther afield from the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition and a string of Winter Carnival festivities also enjoyed an uptick in patronage.
At the Grand Avenue restaurant Dixie's on Grand, co-owner and general manager John Wolf was just as pumped. "We're always booked, but now we're really booked," said Wolf, whose parking lot was full at 4 p.m. "We're just starting a lot earlier."
Wolf, one of about 50 restaurant owners who offered visitors a free shuttle bus from downtown, was preparing for a Red Bull corporate party of 20 to 25 dinner guests.
Restaurateurs said Saturday's busy lineup was a welcome change from the dog days of the National Hockey League lockout from Sept. 15 to Jan. 19. The third and final day of the Red Bull Crashed Ice event near the Cathedral of St. Paul was expected to draw some 80,000 viewers alone. Other downtown events included the
King Boreas Grande Day parade on West Seventh Street, the Securian Winter Run, the Winter Carnival Beer Dabbler in Lowertown, the Saintly City Cat Club annual cat championship at the St. Paul RiverCentre, and shows at the Fitzgerald and Ordway theaters.
The payoff for Cossetta's restaurant was obvious in the number of walk-in customers. The restaurant also cashed in by hosting a 300-person V.I.P. party for Red Bull management Saturday afternoon at its new Louis Ristorante and Bar. Hoping to tap into the same market, bars and restaurants as far away as Carbone's Pizza and Sports Bar in Northfield offered shuttles to downtown St. Paul and back.
Next door to Dixie's on Grand at its sister restaurant, the Japanese eatery Saji-Ya, general manager Pat Kallemeyn wasn't expecting as much of a dinner rush. Nevertheless, he said, business Friday night was about 10 or 15 percent better than usual. "We get some of it, but not to the extent Dixie's does. They've got more TVs. They bring in more of a sports crowd."
The ripple effect had its limits. Down Grand Avenue, not a customer was stirring at 4:30 p.m. in the Running Room, a sports apparel shop. Modest numbers of patrons walked the aisles at the Creative KidStuff toy store and sipped coffee at Chez Arnaud, a new French cafe.
On Saturday, Honeywell engineer Stalin Gudha became the kind of out-of-towner that downtown St. Paul would like to see more of.
Gudha, who moved to St. Louis Park from Bangalore, India, two weeks ago, figured he would make like the locals do by taking in the Winter Carnival ice sculptures in Rice Park and later the beginning of the Red Bull ice cross championship, with a pizza stop at Cossetta in between. Gudha figured he would spend $40 or $50 downtown over the course of the day.
It may be several weeks before St. Paul city officials have a clear sense of how typical a customer Gudha is and how lucrative the Red Bull competition has been for bars, restaurants and city coffers.
A few weeks after the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition made its St. Paul debut last year, Visit Saint Paul, the convention and visitors' authority, asked city officials for a tally of the proceeds generated in January 2012 by the city's half-cent sales tax. The $1.6 million total was $100,000 larger than in January 2011, an indication that an extra $20 million was spent within the city that month.
The types of Winter Carnival, Xcel Energy Center and St. Paul RiverCentre events held that January were comparable to those from the year before, so Visit Saint Paul officials believe the $20 million in new revenue can be directly attributed to the competition.
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