The Painted Turtle preps for busy first summer season at Lake Nokomis

Painted Turtle
Photo credit Mark Freie/Audacy

A popular summertime lakeside stop in South Minneapolis is getting a facelift and name change ahead of a busy summer season.

The Painted Turtle, operated by the owners of the indoor/outdoor dog park Unleashed Hounds and Hops in Minneapolis, is replacing Sandcastle.

Sandcastle's tenants chose not to renew their lease after last year's summer season, ending a ten year run at Lake Nokomis.

"When we saw this opportunity present itself, we put all our chips on the table, and really went all out for it," said Sam Carter, the owner and general manager. "We managed to be lucky enough to get it."

A Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board selection committee graded 11 proposals to fill the vacancy left by Sandcastle. Four applicants receive in-person interviews before The Painted Turtle was ultimately chosen late last year.

The group waited patiently to get to work. After getting the water turned on inside the building, Carter and the rest of The Painted Turtle crew were able to get into the building on the lake's west side in the final week of April.

From there, the spring cleaning commenced.

"We're finally beginning the steps of cleaning up from a winter of not climate-controlled weather impacting the building," Carter said. "We're getting a deep clean on the building and we'll start getting equipment serviced. We'll give the building a fresh coat of paint to lighten it up a little bit and soften it a little bit. We're still going to keep the character of it with the orange and blue. We've tried to match that as well."

The Painted Turtle hopes to open its doors with a soft opening on Monday, June 5.

New tenants means a new menu. One of the main features at the The Painted Turtle will be a full ice cream shop with the help of La La Ice Cream.

50 to 60 percent of the food menu at Unleashed Hounds and Hops will make its way to Lake Nokomis as well.

"We're going to sell dog treats and donate to shelters and rescues," said Dawn Uremovich, Unleashed Hounds and Hops co-owner. "We still want to have a little bit of a thread that carries through from Unleashed. We couldn't not have our cheese curds."

One of the hurdles in front of Carter and Uremovich this summer is the inability to sell beer and wine.

Up until this year the concession operator on the shores of Lake Nokomis had been able to see alcohol without issue. That changed when The Painted Turtle crew acquired the building due to existing state law requiring a certain number of covered seats at an establishment.

"I believe it's 25 covered seats, having to be covered on three or four sides. It kind of sounds like that's always been a rule and it's a lot of finger pointing about who said what all these years ago," Carter said. "When we told the former tenants about the issue, they were shocked. I think it's one of those things that got lost in translation and since it's transitioning to a new owner, someone took a look at it and decided to enforce it."

MPRB is working with The Painted Turtle to create an indoor seating, three-season porch area which will help them comply with state law regarding beer and wine sales. The business joins another new Minneapolis lakeside business scheduled to open this summer. Last November the park board approved a five-year lease ending in 2028 with Lola on the Lake and award-winning Pimento Jamaican Kitchen.

Despite that frustration, Uremovich sees the addition of the Lake Nokomis business as a positive for their Unleashed location, which tends to experience slow periods during the summer months.

"After things normalized after Covid, we realized that the summers were a struggle and this makes perfect sense," she said. "There wasn't any competition during the first couple years of Covid, so we held our own. The business cycles are perfectly complimentary."

It's the values at Unleashed that they plan on carrying to south Minneapolis and The Painted Turtle.

"We're not traditional restaurateurs," Carter said. "To us, food and drink is a means to an end. It's the same means to an end that the dogs are at Unleashed, which is people having a good time which is most important to us. We have a place where people come to have a good time and the food and drinks are a part of that. But, we're not pretentious restaurant people who need our food to be absolutely perfect. We do recognize that doing things homemade, doing things well, and doing things with love make people happy and that's what we are trying to do."

Featured Image Photo Credit: Mark Freie/Audacy