May 21, 2024 - Business

The Minneapolis dining scene's comeback

Illustration of a rollercoaster with salt and pepper shakers instead of cars.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The pandemic dealt a major blow to Minneapolis' dining scene, but the number of restaurants operating with a liquor license in the city is nearly back to what it was in 2019.

Why it matters: Minneapolis became a culinary destination over the past couple of decades, but the pandemic and rise of remote work hammered two of the city's hot spots — downtown and Uptown.

Yes, but: People are changing how and where they eat, and restaurateurs are adapting to meet them in new places.

By the numbers: 710 Minneapolis restaurants had some type of liquor license in 2019. That number fell to 424 in 2020, but it has bounced back up to 646 this spring, according to data from the city.

State of play: While some areas of the city have a long way to go, other neighborhoods have been hot for new restaurants, including the North Loop, Prospect Park, and Northeast.

  • A recent city assessor's report showed that the value of commercial properties in downtown fell by 14% between 2023 and 2024, and in Uptown by 1%. But, the value of commercial properties outside those two areas increased by 2%.

Reality check: Running a restaurant has become much harder in the last four years due to rising expenses and a labor shortage.

Case in point: That's prompting operators like Benjamin Rients and Travis Serbus to get creative.

Stunning stat: The two previously operated Lyn 65 in Richfield before it was demolished to make way for an apartment development. But before that, the restaurant was open seven days a week and had an annual payroll of $800,000 in 2018, Rients said.

  • Petite León in Kingfield — which Rients owns with Serbus and chef Jorge Guzmán — is smaller than Lyn65 and only open for dinner five nights a week plus a Sunday brunch, but it had a payroll of $1.1 million in 2023.

The intrigue: Rients and Serbus are planning to open a new restaurant, Lynette, in the former Riverview Coffee Shop and Wine Bar space in Longfellow in early July. The restaurant will be open seven days a week for all three meals.

Zoom in: Lynette will cater to neighbors who used to commute to an office building but now have WFH jobs and want to sip coffee and work in the morning, do business lunches in the afternoon, and meet for happy hours in the evening, the two told Axios.

  • But to combat those rising labor costs, the restaurant will be counter service during breakfast and lunch, then transition to regular service with a waitstaff for dinner.
  • "There are avenues for success in the industry right now, but you have to adapt with the times," Reits told Axios.

The bottom line: While it can seem like the sky is falling when a restaurant closes, usually there's another entrepreneur ready to pounce on the real estate when it does.

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