Sep 16, 2021

Axios Twin Cities

Happy Thursday!

  • Weather: Windy and warm, with highs in the low 80s.

Situational awareness: The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to speed up its review of the ongoing legal fight over the police charter amendment, MPR News reports. Early voting is set to start Friday.

Today's newsletter is 951 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: The future of freezing-cold dining

Freehouse's 2019 outdoor patio domes. Photo courtesy of Blue Plate Restaurant Co.

Outdoor dining options kept many Twin Cities restaurants alive during COVID-19 restrictions last winter — and now the industry is revisiting whether to keep the patio tents and al fresco fixtures around.

Why it matters: The approaching cold weather combined with concerns over the Delta variant's spread have restaurant owners — who've seen some recovery from the pandemic — searching for ways to keep diners coming back.

  • Six in 10 Americans are changing their dining patterns going into the fall because of Delta concerns, according to a new survey from the National Restaurant Association.
  • Nearly 20% said they won't be eating out at all.

State of play: Summer was good to local restaurants. Across Minnesota, 42% of restaurant operators reported higher revenues this summer than pre-pandemic, said Ben Wogsland, director of government operations for Hospitality Minnesota.

  • And, several owners told Audrey they're not expecting indoor dining restrictions again, especially after Gov. Tim Walz gave up emergency powers in July.
  • Yes, but: Razor-thin margins, lack of federal COVID relief, worker shortages and debt accumulated during the pandemic aren't helping.

What's happening: For some, last winter was a test drive for offerings that will be made permanent.

  • Utepils Brewing in Minneapolis turned an outdoor beer garden into a year-round operation last winter, hosting live music with a giant bonfire and two-walled "tents." They saw record-breaking revenue and lines to get in, said Utepils president Dan Justesen.

Meanwhile, there's still a lot of trial and error.

  • The Freehouse couldn't continue its popular outdoor domes due to ventilation and condensation problems, said Stephanie Shimp of Blue Plate Restaurant Co., which owns nine restaurants in the Twin Cities area.
  • Revenue is expected to drop, she added, but several locations are implementing fire pits, patio heaters and blankets for the determined.

The bottom line: Restaurants can continue to get creative, but only time will tell if there's a return on investment.

  • "Last year, I think we were just grateful we had something. Now, we can build on that and see if it'll grow," Shimp said.
2. Hy-Vee's new store model coming to Twin Cities

The new Hy-Vee smart stores have vending machines that make a salad for you. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios Des Moines

Hy-Vee's got a new "smart store" model, and the Twin Cities is going to get the company's biggest yet, reports Linh Ta of Axios Des Moines.

What's happening: Hy-Vee CEO Randy Edeker told Axios that the forthcoming store will be 147,000 square feet, providing ample space for experimentation. It'll also have an e-commerce hub and micro-fulfillment center.

Details: The new smart stores have kiosks to help you do everything from order a custom cake to buy an elliptical machine.

  • Looking for high-end wines? You can find $1,000+ bottles in the store's wine and spirits section, plus a cigar room.
  • There's a hot food area that functions like a food hall. Order at a kiosk, sit down and someone will bring out your Hy-Chi (Hy-Vee's Chinese restaurant).
  • And yes, a vending machine will even make you a custom salad.

The intrigue: A location hasn't been finalized yet, said Hy-Vee spokesperson Tina Potthoff.

Nick's thought bubble: Hy-Vee's not saying, but this is almost certainly the grocer's planned Bloomington/Southtown location we reported about last week.

  • Site plans call for a 132,500-square-foot store with an additional 21,000-square-foot retail space that would be a logical fit for the fulfillment center.
3. The Spoon: Fill up on these stories

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

💉 Minnesota Department of Health has launched a free mobile app called Docket that people can use to download immunization records showing their COVID-19 shot, along with other vaccinations. Those who don't want to use an app can request their record here.

🤔 St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter won't say if he supports the rent control initiative on the city's November ballot. (Minnesota Reformer)  

💰 After Daunte Wright was killed by a Brooklyn Center police officer, leaders set out to create a Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention. But now city officials say the plan "would not be within the realm of reach ... financially at this time."  (CCX Media)

⚖️ The state Supreme Court overturned a third-degree murder conviction against former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor. His sentence is expected to be significantly shortened as a result. (Star Tribune)

🏌️‍♀️ Two Minneapolis sisters are getting national attention for their new line of pregnancy-friendly golf apparel, called Playing9. (Today Show)

4. Metro suburb named best U.S. hometown

Chanhassen residents can stop and smell the flowers at the Arboretum anytime. Photo: Audrey Kennedy/Axios

Chanhassen is Money magazine's best place to live in 2021.

Driving the honor: The annual ranking cites good schools, access to nature, and commercial and residential growth in the Twin Cities suburb as key factors in the selection.

  • Plus: "With a median home price of $458,000 in the first quarter of this year, Chanhassen is now one of the pricier Twin City suburbs. At the moment, the median household income in Chanhassen — $125,000 — is high enough to support the prices," the story adds.

Yes, but: While the Carver County city has become more diverse over the last decade, it's still overwhelmingly white and, like many places, facing issues related to race and inclusion, the story notes.

Read the full write-up via Money magazine.

5. Wine bar with booze to-go heading to Ridgedale Center

A wine bar and liquor store is planned at the old Champps space in Minnetonka. Image: Tanek, via city of Minnetonka

The former Champps restaurant (R.I.P.) next to Ridgedale Center is slated to become a wine bar, grocer and liquor store.

Driving the news: Top Ten Liquors has submitted plans to the city of Minnetonka, saying it will serve by-the-glass wines and small plates in a restaurant, plus operate a full-service liquor store.

Context: Top Ten is a fast-growing local liquor store chain. It has opened stores in Rosemount, Plymouth and Vandnais Heights in the past year, and now has 12 Twin Cities outposts.

What's next: A public hearing on the proposed store is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 4.

6. 💉 One tweet to go: KAT is tired of your excuses

Screenshot: @JonKrawczynski/Twitter

Karl-Anthony Towns went viral this week after questioning why more people aren't getting vaccinated.

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