Minnesota Aviation History: The Minnesota Big Deal
The Star Tribune reported (article can be found here) on the morning of October 29 that the home of Steve Rothmeier was for sale. Rothmeier was an executive at Northwest Airlines from 1973 until a leveraged buy-out in 1989 and became CEO in 1985. During his tenure there, Northwest became a lean, low-cost survivor of airline deregulation in 1978, but it grew substantially thanks to the merger with Republic Airlines in 1986. Rothmeier’s home itself has been described as a fairytale castle. The 9,000 square foot home sits up on a secluded hill in Eagan, Minnesota and it is surrounded by the same tall black iron fence that once surrounded the Northwest Airlines headquarters.
In a seemingly unrelated event on that same morning, my wife and I chose to go to Tommy C’s Randolph Grill for breakfast for the first time. We were greeted by the gregarious Tommy C himself and he proceeded to lead us to a front corner booth. Above the booth was a plaque that read ‘The “Big Deal Booth”‘. This struck a chord of memory for me, so I asked Tommy C about it. And he related the following story.
Years ago, Tommy and his brothers owned a local restaurant in West Saint Paul called Caspers’ Cherokee Sirloin Room. One day in the early summer of 1986, Tommy was working when two businessmen carrying briefcases came into the restaurant at dinner time. They asked for a quiet table, well out of the way, and he seated them in a booth that was farthest from the front door.
The two men ate and talked intensely. The waitress kept serving them water and they stayed all evening. When it came time for the restaurant to close, Tommy C told the men they would need to wrap things up. They asked for another fifteen minutes, which Tommy C agreed to. They then settled their bill and headed out.
A few days later, the Los Angeles Times reported that CEO of Northwest Airlines, Rothmeier, had secretly met with the charismatic Stephen Wolf, CEO of Republic Airlines, in a small local restaurant, well away from their usual haunts. It was there that they negotiated the merger of two hometown Minnesota airlines. And Tommy C came to realize that it was in his booth that the two CEOs had shaken hands and made history.
The Justice Department approved the merger on August 1, 1986, and the then-largest airline merger in history was consummated on October 1, 1986. The actual merging of the operations was complicated and contentious, but it made Northwest a stronger, larger carrier that could compete with the likes of American, United, and Delta. It positioned the company well for the future until it was finally merged into Delta Air Lines on January 31, 2010.
As for Tommy C, he immediately moved the now famous booth from the back corner to the most visible spot in the restaurant and put a plaque above it proclaiming it The “Big Deal Booth”. It was his most popular table for years and was a frequent lunch spot for the Northwest Airlines law department during my tenure there.
But time marches on. Tommy C eventually sold his interest in the Cherokee to his brothers and bought the Copper Dome restaurant in Saint Paul (now the Randolph Grill), where he proclaimed his own Big Deal Booth. It frequently hosts people negotiating home purchase agreements, proposing marriage and discussing other major life events. By coincidence, the other Casper Brothers decided to sell the Cherokee Sirloin Room in August of this year.