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How the Tinucci Family Built a Small Restaurant Empire With Colossal Cafe

Take one tiny restaurant, one pineapple haired TV host and a hospitality family; shake and serve.

The little restaurant with a big name and the family behind it.
The little restaurant with a big name and the family behind it.
Colossal Cafe

In August 2010, Elizabeth Tinucci and her parents, John and Carrie, purchased the postage stamp sized Colossal Cafe in Minneapolis from innovative chef Bess Giannakakis. The cafe, which was open for breakfast and lunch, had already garnered a loyal following for their yeasted pancakes called flappers as well as their

"Everything blew up," Elizabeth said. "It was insane."

breakfast sandwiches, made with fluffy homemade buttermilk biscuits. The new owners shared Giannakakis’ passion for providing loyal patrons with made from scratch, creative dishes and earnest hospitality. You could say that food is in their blood. The family has been in the biz for decades- John’s dad started Tinucci’s in Newport over 50 years ago.

Inside the first St. Paul location. Photo courtesy Colossal Cafe

Beautiful breakfast. Photo courtesy Colossal Cafe

When they first took over the beloved Colossal, the Tinuccis didn’t change much other than open for service an additional day or two. Elizabeth focused on learning how to put out the best food possible out of a sometimes prohibitively  tiny kitchen. Then came Guy Fieri. Shortly after taking over the cafe, Colossal Cafe was featured on Fieri’s show Diners Drive-Ins and Dives (knows as Triple D to its many rabid followers.) "Everything blew up," Elizabeth said. "It was insane."

The instant notoriety spurred talk of an expansion. John had fallen in love with the St. Anthony Park neighborhood and when the space on Como Avenue became available for lease, the team opened their second, larger Colossal Cafe.

Inside the second Colossal Cafe. Photo courtesy Colossal Cafe

Inside the second Colossal Cafe. Photo courtesy Colossal Cafe

It takes time to figure out what works in each neighborhood.

Fast forward to spring of 2015, and a third location opened on the corner of Hamline and Grand Avenue in St. Paul. The newest location features a full espresso bar, which was sorely missing from the breakfast menu at the other two locations. The larger location has also allowed Elizabeth to offer a larger array of baked goods which line up the front window in a beautiful display reminiscent of Paris patisseries.

Giant pancakes topped with slices of brie place in a cross on top of chopped walnuts. Colossal Cafe

The famous flappers. Photo courtesy Colossal Cafe

The Colossal Cafe’s three locations have become beloved neighborhood hubs, where patrons linger over their now famous flappers. Those slightly tangy, plate-sized pancakes are available topped with caramelized apples, walnuts and slices of creamy brie or simply adorned with butter and real syrup. While the three locations have common threads in both design and menu choices, each kitchen team is empowered to put their stamp on the offerings, including the daily specials. "We want you to know that you are at Colossal," Elizabeth explained. "But we tried to make each location a little different, they each fit into their own neighborhoods."

"Each store runs independently but together," added John.

Will the Tinuccis continue to grow their tiny empire? Not any time soon, it appears. The gradual expansion is working just fine for Elizabeth, who views each additional cafe as an opportunity to learn. "This is about getting to know the customers," she said. "It takes time to figure out what works in each neighborhood."

Colossal Café

1839 E 42nd St, Minneapolis, MN 55407 (612) 729-2377 Visit Website