He’s the best-known name in Minnesota hockey and a respected partner for institutional investors throughout the country.
Now Lou Nanne, 75, has shown he’s hungry for more by opening a new restaurant — Lou Nanne’s American Grill in Edina.
Here’s a look at the three-period career of one of Minnesota’s most respected athletes.
Sweet Lou from the Soo
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, (which explains the “Soo” in his nickname), Nanne grew up playing hockey with Hockey Hall of Famers Phil and Tony Esposito.
He went on to become a member of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team from 1959 to 1963, under beloved Eveleth-born Coach John Mariucci.
In 1963, Nanne earned All-American honors in addition to winning the league MVP and the scoring championship.
After graduating with a bachelor’s in business from the U of M, Nanne was originally headed for the Chicago Blackhawks.
But after a contract dispute, Nanne opted to instead start his business career in the Twin Cities while playing on the weekends for the local Rochester Mustangs with the U.S. Hockey League.
“I went to work,” said Nanne, who started in sales with the agribusiness firm Archer Daniels Midland and went on to Harvey Mackay’s Mackay Envelope Co.
It didn’t last too long.
Soon the Canadian was asked to play in the 1968 Olympics for Team USA. Congress passed a bill granting him citizenship and he was eventually named captain of the U.S. Olympic Team.
“That’s how I became a U.S. citizen,” Nanne said.
After the 1968 Olympics, Nanne joined his new hometown’s expansion team — the North Stars — and emerged as the team’s first real star.
He played primarily as a defenseman with the exception of one season as a forward in 1971–72.
Nanne played for the U.S. at the Ice Hockey World Championship tournaments in 1976 and 1977 and in the inaugural Canada Cup in 1976.
Nanne played 635 NHL regular-season games in all for the Minnesota North Stars before hanging up his skates in 1978.
A North Star
Nanne, having lived in the U.S. since age 18, self-identifies as a Minnesotan.
But his two favorite memories on the ice as a Minnesota North Star happened in Canada.
“I got a hat trick in Montreal. That was my favorite place to play. We won 6-5. It was a good game,” Nanne said. “I also — in the playoffs — I scored the winning goal in Montreal. It was the first time an expansion team had beaten an established team in the playoffs.”
As impressive as Nanne’s playing career was, the man is often more recognized more for what he did next as a general manager and coach, both for the North Stars and for the United States’ Canada Cup teams.
With an infusion of notable players from a merger with the Cleveland Barons — and through the draft — Nanne rebuilt the ailing North Stars into a team to beat.
In 1981, the team reached the Stanley Cup finals, followed by the semifinals in 1984 as well as the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons.
Simultaneously, Nanne served as general manager of the U.S. Canada Cup teams in 1981, 1984 and 1987.
In 1988, after a few lackluster seasons, Nanne resigned from his general manager position with the North Stars, citing health reasons.
Nanne’s reputation as a Minnesota hockey legend and advocate for the sport continued.
In 1998, he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 2004, he was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
A family affair
His family, meanwhile, is carrying on his legacy as well.
Three of Nanne’s 11 grandchildren — Louis, Vinni and Tyler — are currently playing university hockey.
His granddaughter, Erin, served a stint as the community relations coordinator at the Minnesota Wild.
She’s now vice president of giving for United Heroes League, which helps keep the children of military kids healthy and active in sports, including hockey.
And for the past 52 years, Nanne’s been the voice behind the microphone at the Minnesota State High School League Boys’ Tournament.
Nanne broadcast the championship game when his son, Marty, scored the winning goal.
He was also in the booth in 2011 when grandson Louis’ team won and in 2013 and 2014 when grandson Tyler’s team won.
“Those were, by far, the toughest games I ever had to broadcast,” Nanne said. “I had to focus on the game itself and be unbiased. But at the same time, my stomach was churning because I wanted them to do well.”
Nanne is also on the air for sports radio shows twice a week — KFAN on Tuesdays at 5:20 p.m. and KSTP at 10 a.m. on Thursdays.
Financial power play
It was only after 23 years working in the State of Hockey that Nanne made good on a promise to his wife, Francine, and retired from the hockey establishment at age 50.
Not long after that, however, he entered the world of finance, starting at Piper Capital Management and then moving to the institutional sales department for Voyageur Asset Management.
When RBC Global Asset Management purchased the firm in 2000, he stayed on as RBC’s senior managing director for institutional sales.
John Taft, former CEO of RBC’s U.S. Wealth Management has worked with Nanne since the mid-1990s.
“I was nominally his boss for about a decade, but nobody is really Lou’s boss,” Taft said. “He’s the hardest-working person I have ever known. He’s been an inspiration to me and to everyone he’s worked with.”
Nanne clearly enjoys the working life, even viewing the rigorous travel requirements in a positive light.
“The job gives me the opportunity to travel quite a bit, calling on prospects and visiting clients,” he said. “I logged 130,000 air miles last year.”
Nanne’s second career in business plays into his life philosophy: No matter how much you love athletics, education is equally important.
“You can’t play athletics all your life,” Nanne said. “I’m still working at 75 because I found things I enjoy doing, and I committed myself to doing them. It’s a simple way to go through life and enjoy every minute.”
Opening a restaurant
So why did Nanne want to open a restaurant this past March, especially when he’s reached an age at which most people might be thinking about slowing down, not revving up?
“I’ve had previous opportunities offered to me, but they were always for sports-bar concepts, and I didn’t want to do that,” Nanne said. “It didn’t seem like a good business model: If the team is winning, people are happy. But if they’re losing, not so much.”
But when the opportunity came up to partner with local restaurateur Mike McDermott, who owns and operates Rojo Mexican Grills and Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar & Grill restaurants in the Twin Cities, Nanne was intrigued.
McDermott wanted to do an upscale restaurant, not just another sports bar.
“And that’s what I had envisioned, too,” Nanne said.
Lou Nanne’s American Grill — known simply as Lou Nanne’s — is in the Centennial Lakes Office Park in a former Romano’s Macaroni Grill space on France Avenue in Edina.
The renovated venue includes seating for 165 in the dining room and 52 in the bar, plus a seasonal patio overlooking Centennial Lake with seating for 90.
Hockey memorabilia featuring the Nanne is integrated into the dining areas, including of the star in his icon green-and-gold North Stars jersey.
Lou Nanne’s entree prices range from a $14 cheeseburger to more upscale items like an 8-ounce filet for $39 and a 22-ounce bone-in ribeye for $53.
McDermott sings Nanne’s praises: “Lou has been a great partner to work with, and I really can’t say enough good things about him,” he said. “He’s a great ambassador of the concept, taking pictures with people when he’s in the restaurant and doing a great job being the ‘face’ of Lou Nanne’s.”
When he’s not traveling for work, Nanne enjoys frequenting his restaurant, especially if his wife of 54 years is out of town.
He typically orders the restaurant’s only pasta — Nanne’s Bolognese.
Seventy-three-year-old Francine Nanne, an enthusiastic home cook who accompanies Nanne on many of his business trips, developed the dish, incorporating influences from her husband’s Italian mother, recipes from friends and also by recalling meals she and her husband enjoyed in Italy.
The recipe, according to Star Tribune food critic Rick Nelson, “is a generous bowl of thick, toothy bucatini liberally tossed in a milky, garlicky tomato sauce that pops with oregano, thyme and plenty of prime ground beef.” (Rick Nelson’s Star Tribune restaurant review.)
(Bucatini is a thick spaghetti-like pasta with a hole running through the center.)
Pride of the Gophers
It’s not only paying work that Lou pursues with such passion. He’s also a strong supporter of his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, and is the current chairman for a fund-raising campaign to generate $190 million for the university’s Athletics department.
“People ask me to do things, and if they’re interesting to me, I say yes,” Nanne said. “The more I do, the more I get asked to do, it seems. It’s a lot, but I have a hard time saying ‘no.’”
University of Minnesota’s Associate Athletics Director for Development Randy Handel said Nanne is an ideal person for the role.
“He is as committed and passionate about Gopher Athletics as anyone you will ever know,” Handel said. “He has that blend of intelligence, common sense and competitive spirit that only great leaders possess, and his storytelling and humor are legendary. We’re truly indebted to him and Francine for giving their time, talent and treasure.”
Bringing family together
As busy as he is, Nanne still makes time for his family, which faced a tragedy three years ago, when his son, Michael, died of brain cancer at age 48. (At the time, Nanne told the Star Tribune, “He was an incredible person who faced adversity without any complaint.”)
The remaining Nanne offspring, Michelle, Marc and Marty, all live within 15 minutes of Lou and Francine’s Edina home.
The clan continues to gather frequently at the family cabin on Balsam Lake in Wisconsin, northeast of Taylors Falls.
“My grandchildren are my friends,” Nanne said. “I feel more like their contemporary than their grandfather.”
He delights in gathering the family together for vacations. They’ve traveled twice to Italy, and also to France and to Beaver Creek, Colo.
“We recently had a Nanne family reunion with my brother and sister and their kids and grandkids,” he said. “It was more than 60 people.”
Julie Kendrick is a contributing writer for many local publications. She lives in Minneapolis and blogs at kendrickworks.blogspot.com.