Phillip Becht is ending his seven-year run as chef at the Modern Cafe (337 13th Av. NE., Mpls., www.moderncafeminneapolis.com). He's headed to the Birchwood Cafe (3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., www.birchwoodcafe.com), taking the title of operations manager.

"I've never worked at a restaurant that had an operations manager, so I'm not quite sure what that means," said B'wood owner Tracy Singleton with a laugh. "But we came up with this job description after barely surviving this past summer. I'm not complaining that we were busy. That's an awesome problem to have. But Phillip is going to make this thing work better."

Which means not cooking. "This will allow Marshall [Paulsen, the restaurant's longtime chef] to be in the kitchen a lot more," said Singleton.

"I'm not the chef, and I'm excited about that prospect," said Becht. "It's a good move for me, and I hope that it's going to be a good move for the Birchwood. I'm sad to leave the Modern. But this is also going to bring new vigor and new excitement to the Modern. It's good for everyone."

A fresh face at the mall

What's new in the food court? At most malls, the answer would be the same-old, same-old chains. But at Eden Prairie Center, it's Pasta Zola (8251 Flying Cloud Dr., Eden Prairie, www.pastazola.com).

First-time restaurateurs Mitch and Kris Thayer, looking for a career change, took the leap into food. It felt like a natural. "We're both foodies, and we've been looking for something that we could do together," said Mitch, a former marketing manager for a medical device company.

Their fast-casual restaurant specializes in pasta (cavatappi, rigatoni and penne) paired with a dozen freshly prepared sauces.

One advantage to being the little guy is that the Thayers can quickly react to customer feedback. A recent survey revealed that portions were too large (when is the last time you heard that in Minnesota?) and prices were too high for the food court.

"So last week we revamped the menu to offer a smaller size at a lesser price point," said Mitch. The result? Sixty percent of their sales are now at the smaller price point, which is indeed small: $4.25 vs. $5.25 for the "regular" portion. "It's good to give people what they want," he said.

Winter shopping

Yes, you can shop farmers markets while the snow flies. The Twin Cities' cold-weather farmers market stalwart is the St. Paul Farmers Market (www. stpaulfarmersmarket.com), open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday through April (290 E. 5th St., St. Paul).

Across the river, the Minneapolis Farmers Market (www.mplsfarmersmarket.com) is open 9 a.m. to noon every other Saturday (next one: Feb. 5) through April (312 E. Lyndale Av. N., Mpls.).

The Mill City Farmers Market (www.millcityfarmersmarket.org) convenes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the third Saturday of each month (next one: Feb. 19) through April at Local D'Lish (208 N. 1st St., Mpls., www.localdlish.com).

The Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market (www.nemplsfarmersmarket.com) gets together from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month (next one: Feb. 12) through May at the Eastside Food Co-op (2551 Central Av. NE., Mpls., www.eastsidefood.coop).

The Village Farmers Market (www.thevillagefarmersmarket.org) meets 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the third Sunday of the month (next one: Feb. 20) through May at the St. Anthony Community Center, 3301 Silver Lake Rd., St. Anthony.

RICK NELSON