Gazta & Enhancements, the charming and well-stocked cheese/wine/cocktail bar in the Keg and Case Market in St. Paul, has closed.
"It’s really hard, because Gazta is truly everything we love to eat," said Tony Fritz, who owns the 8-month-old restaurant with his wife, Haley Fritz. "We travel around the world to eat cheese, and we built Gazta as a reflection of who we are as people.”
But this corner of the food hall won’t stay fallow for long. The Fritzes are converting the space into a brick-and-mortar version of their popular O’Cheeze food truck.
“We feel like Keg and Case Market doesn’t have an affordable food option,” said Tony Fritz. “We want to offer something that fits the needs of families, and the neighborhood.”
A menu of moderately priced grilled cheese sandwiches in a number of permutations — along with soups and salads — will fit that bill.
In March, the couple closed their first brick-and-mortar version of O’Cheeze. The short-lived venture was located on the skyway level of the Baker Block in downtown Minneapolis, near two other fellow food truckers, Vellee Deli and Green + the Grain.
“The skyway is a pigeonhole,” said Tony Fritz. “The market in the skyway is, ‘Gimme lunch, and let me go back to my office,’ and we want to be more than ‘Here’s your sandwich, have a nice day.’ We want to serve an all-day need.’”
At Keg and Case Market (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo), the O’Cheeze bar will tap local beers, and following in the footsteps of Gazta, it will also feature a long list of specialty cocktails. Standards, too.
"If you want a gin and tonic, you’ll be able to have a gin and tonic,” said Tony Fritz.
The counter-service operation will open at 10 a.m. and serve to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and to midnight Friday and Saturday. Sunday hours are yet to be determined.
As for closing Gazta, Tony Fritz said that it wasn’t an easy decision.
“The concept did very well, and we’re really sad to see it go,” he said. “But we just don’t have the square footage for it. Only 42 people could fit in the place, and when you’re doing customized cheese plates (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo) and croque madames and monsieurs, we couldn’t seat everyone, especially during the busy times. Realistically, it should have been at least three times bigger."
Their truck business is going strong. Private events are driving a lot of business.
“We have 36 graduation parties booked,” said Tony Fritz.
But he added that they’ve given up on the Twin Cities’ food truck epicenter, the area around 2nd Avenue and 6th Street in downtown Minneapolis.
“That’s where you build your clientele, but we’re having a hard time with the toughness of it,” said Tony Fritz. “Everyone is fighting to get that spot, because you can make five hundred to a thousand dollars more if you do. But it’s a rat race, with big trucks competing and maneuvering in tight spots. It’s not safe. It’s just not worth the trouble, and the stress, and the headache.”
Instead, a new strategy will concentrate on developing different downtown locations.
“We want to show people that there’s a lot more to downtown than 2nd Avenue,” said Tony Fritz. “You don’t have to put up with standing on a tight sidewalk, shoulder-to-shoulder. Street food is supposed to be fun and casual. Minneapolis is beautiful in the summer, and we should all enjoy it, and go for a stroll. We hope that it will work and we’ll get people on board.”
(Track the truck’s whereabouts on Twitter, @O_Cheeze).
They’ll also be parking their bright yellow vehicle at events. This weekend’s 24th-annual Art-A-Whirl is a good example. The Fritzes are taking over the parking lot at the Johnson Paper & Supply Co. (806 14th Av. NE.) and hosting what they’ve dubbed Quincy Street Bash 1.0, a first-annual gathering that will run Friday, Saturday and Sunday and will include O’Cheeze and the couple’s Dough Dough cookie dough truck, along with the Gastrotruck truck, plus beer and cocktails.
“We’ll add live music next year,” said Tony Fritz.
Meanwhile, construction will continue at Keg and Case Market. O’Cheeze should open on May 24.