If a template exists for integrating family and work life, the Kings probably served as models. Louis King, a powerhouse in merging education, youth development and workforce development, holds titles as CEO and president of Summit Academy OIC, as well as father of three. His wife, Beverly King, led the way to Lola on the Lake, an eatery at Bde Maka Ska, situated at East Lake Street and Calhoun Parkway in Minneapolis.
“It started as a snow-cone stand,” Beverly King said, explaining the genesis of a business that now includes six concession stands. “We wanted to teach our daughter, Lauryn, how to save money, so we set up this snow-cone business. She’d operate it and keep all the tips.”
The business now includes two indoor and two outdoor concession stands at the U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. There’s also a Lola’s Café at King’s Landing located at the Jim Lupient Water Park in northeast Minneapolis.
While snow cones were great as a start-up, they took a back seat to wings at the Viking’s home stadium. “We would host Fourth of July picnics and fix food for 70 people,” said Beverly.
The praise at picnics prompted them to try their hand at working festivals. Louis King, who was also a U.S. Army officer for 10 years, had learned how to prepare and deliver food to a large number of people. King started using a smoker, and customers couldn’t stop eating their wings. From there, it was one step after another to concession stands that now serve thousands of people.
Lola on the Lake, which got its name from the moniker their daughter uses for social media, serves up a bit different fare. Their menu is derived from what they know and what was served in the past at the same location.
They brought the wings in with their smoker from the stadium, but they still serve fish and tacos and other familiar foods like French fries and coleslaw that the previous food provider, Tin Fish, offered in the location.
When the Tin Fish owners retired, the Minneapolis Park Board opened up applications to anyone who wanted to give it a go. The Kings came out on top of a dozen applications.
Louis King said there was some strong opposition to the Kings taking on the helm of serving food to the community. Some weren’t sure they had the experience and know-how.
But, even a blizzard on opening day on April 15 couldn’t deter them. After thawing out from the record-breaking snowstorm, they pushed their grand opening to Memorial Day weekend, May 25.
For customers, part of the appeal is the visual allure that the Kings have installed – from oversized Adirondack chairs painted in a variety of colors, to beautiful gardens lush with flowers of many colors and sizes, to improvements on the refectory where the concession stand is housed.
While the Kings have a five-year lease to run their concession stand, they don’t have a monopoly on the building or surrounding space. Louis King said, “This is a public park. We can’t control who sits at the tables, what food they bring in, the activities of the vendors next to us.”
But that variety of action is one of Louis King’s favorite aspects of Lola’s. “Every day, I meet someone from a different state or country. I think [Lola] is a hidden gem in Minneapolis.”
The Kings’ success speaks for itself: They’ve made Lola on the Lake a destination spot. Beverly remarked that not only can their place be seen from airplanes flying overhead, but also, a ride at the Mall of America actually features their eatery.
They also are in the business of sharing their success. “We employ youth from the community,” Beverly King said. “It’s one of our things, to give them business acumen, help them save money. To draw from the area.”
Even so, labor continues to be a challenge for them. Their general manager, Darnella Anderson, provides guidance and mentorship to the mostly high-school-aged employees. She helps turn out workers who are conscientious and attentive.
The Kings have a few years before they look at retirement, but Louis King is already playing with the idea of opening up a Lola in another location. “Florida,” Beverly King said, where they can take their retirement slow.
As if in preparation for that time in their lives, this year they put Lauryn in the driver’s seat, managing the water park stand. Louis King describes that as one of his biggest joys.
“[Young people] don’t always let you know where they stand, but I’ve seen [Lauryn] step up when the cash register’s gone down, and she didn’t object to the water park.”
“She’s only 16-and-a-half,” Beverly King reminded me, full of pride for her daughter’s capable business acuity.
Lola On the Lake is located at 3000 East Lake Calhoun Parkway and is open seasonally April 15 to October 15, from 11 am to 9 pm. For more information, visit www.lolascafemn.com/lolamenu.