While restaurants across the state are taking advantage of lighter restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, one Twin Cities restaurant owner is preparing to shut down for a much-needed break.
Tim Niver, owner of Saint Dinette and Mucci’s Italian in St. Paul, and Trattoria Mucci in Minneapolis, announced via Twitter that his three restaurants will close Monday for an unspecified amount of time.
“This weekend will be the last service at @MuccisItalian, @SaintDinette and Trattoria Mucci until sometime in July,” Niver announced. “We have done our best to give everything we could in these trying times. We packed our love into to-go boxes and sent it home with you. Now it’s time for us to park ourselves up in the same love we pour out to you.”
Niver also teased that concept changes could be on the horizon for his three eateries.
“Don’t expect the same upon our return,” he said.
Vague, just like his timetable for reopening. Because doing this next chapter right is incredibly important to Niver.
“I’ve said it a lot of times,” he said. “People can forgive us now for the things that we changed because they know we’re hurting. They know we needed another chance because they know this has been hard. And so if we don’t make that change, now we go back to business as usual. I’m just not interested in that.”
On his agenda? Working to stabilize the business side of his restaurants and providing safer work environments for employees, including the addition of health insurance.
“I want to be able to leave an industry to the young folks I work with that has value, that does not tire them into the ground,” he said. “And it does not just beat them away. Because we love it but it’s also so freaking hard. We've never done anything to kind of take care of ourselves. And now is the time. If we don't do it now, we're going to lose that chance.”
Niver said his team hasn’t decided if they’ll add dining-in as an option once they reopen next month but he has tasked managers with figuring out all possible scenarios so they are prepared when they reopen.
“The situation is very precarious,” he said. “With all of these states that have reopened early surging again, it’s hard to determine whether the dining room is really safe. We understand we have the power to take a few weeks to decide what’s best for us and to see how things develop before we commit.”
He added: “I promised my people that I would continue to educate myself as to where we're headed locally and nationally with this pandemic and then we'll kind of decide together whether we're all ready to invite people back into our room or not.”
So what can guests expect when Niver and his team flip the lights back on?
Saint Dinette just celebrated five years of serving up meals in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood and will likely come out of this shutdown with a brand-new menu. Niver said his team will be focusing on locality and environmental factors while building the menu.
Trattoria Mucci in Minneapolis’ Lyn-Lake neighborhood, his newest restaurant, might focus more on the “red sauce stuff” that they’ve done in the past, he said.
Mucci’s Italian in St. Paul’s West Seventh neighborhood, famous for its pizza, fresh pasta and donuts on the weekends, could see the biggest transformation.
“It'll be something very unexpected and exploratory on our behalf,” he said, noting that at all three locations his staff plans to take some chances.
Adapting to a new normal under the shadow of COVID-19
Niver’s restaurants shut down ahead of the Gov. Tim Walz's order on Mar. 17 and in less than four days switched all three to a to-go concept complete with new menus and online ordering systems.
Like many restaurants, adopting new to-go practices came with its challenges for Niver and his employees. They are currently on their third online ordering system after struggling to find one that worked with their food concepts and limited staffing.
“The first system was cumbersome and we needed a whole extra person just to watch the system,” he said.
All three of Niver’s restaurants have been running with very few employees – kitchen staff and managers – which breaks down to about six employees per store. So it became clear early on that a more user-friendly system was necessary if they wanted to make life as a to-go restaurant successful.
“We got the crap kicked out of us for a couple of weeks where we were trying to figure it out,” he said. “It was ridiculously difficult.”
“People were ultimately right out of the gate very supportive,” he said. “And it was busy on top of it being difficult. Like there were days where we’d shut off our ordering system at six o’clock. We had two more hours of service, but we couldn’t take any more order. And we were like, Holy shit, can we even complete this?”
Getting into a new rhythm was important for Niver and his team. He said they’ve gotten better at the to-go concept, forgetting fewer items, learning how to pack bags better, and adapting to the technological challenges that come with online ordering.
Niver said even if they decide to reopen their dining rooms and patios, their new to-go model will continue to be an option at all three locations to accommodate anyone who isn’t comfortable eating out.
The hard work over the last few months has been both physically and mentally draining for his entire team but Niver said it has helped prepare them for whatever comes next.
“I know it just cooking,” he said. “I know it’s just to-go but it’s been more than that. It’s been the pressure of trying to decide our future.”
Note: Guests can enjoy one last takeout meal at Saint Dinette Thursday, June 25th through Sunday, June 28th from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 12-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and at both Mucci’s locations the same dates from 4-8 p.m.