A new self-proclaimed “geek bar” with an international bent and a serious commitment to a fair-wage restaurant model is now open in Minneapolis.
Byte quietly debuted at 319 1st Ave. N. on March 1, bringing a new breakfast, lunch and late-night gaming option to the downtown area.
The restaurant serves what co-owner Travis Shaw is calling “global street food” – loaded tots (see above), Korean barbecue wraps and banh mi – with table-top games acting as the entertainment. Coffee, Rose Street Patisserie pastries, plus wine and beer are also available in the two-room eatery, which is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.
“It was inspired by street food from around the world,” said Shaw, who owns the restaurant with partner Mark Lowman. “We wanted a menu that could be quickly executed, casual, not pretentious but also cost effective.”
The duo knew they wanted to open a “geek bar,” but they were just as passionate about offering a “socially responsible and sustainable” business model.
At Byte, there is just one “employee class,” Shaw said, with workers each getting paid $15 an hour and sharing in responsibilities and tips. Bartenders do prep work in the kitchen. Cooks, when needed, will ring people up or bartend at the counter-service restaurant. Tips are pooled evenly.
Shaw said the inspiration for such a focus grew out of frustration as both he and Shaw worked their way through various restaurants in back-of-the-house roles. Both last worked at the Marquette Hotel.
“We felt kind of trapped in the system,” Shaw said. “No matter where you go, if you’re in the back of the house, you’re not paid enough to live comfortable – or even uncomfortably. You see the servers walk away with lots of money and the back of the house kind of gets shafted.
“So this is a bit of an experiment – can we do this?”
Shaw and Lowman are trying to do so with their own flair. The 100-seat restaurant – there are plans to also debut at 30-seat patio this week – features a host of games as well as geek-themed artwork and décor.
“The whole adult gaming thing is kind of taking off,” Shaw said. “We ourselves are pretty geeky, and there really isn’t a full-on geek bar in the Twin Cities even though there is really a large population of us.”
(All photos courtesy Byte.)