Heartland finally reopened for business on Thursday, July 22. It had been five weeks since we shut the doors at the old location, but it felt like five months. While we probably could have used a couple of extra weeks to really nail things down, our staff were beginning to suffer from the layoff. It was imperative that we get them back to work as soon as possible. Two of our kitchen crew have just bought new homes, and they were of particular concern to us.
As openings go, we had some peculiar challenges when it came to city inspections. I'm not sure if all of the attention we received was the result of an office that doesn't have enough projects to review due to the economic slow down or if it had to do with the difficulty of the renovation and the speed at which we completed the first phase of our build out. In addition, there is always one subcontractor who holds up everyone else. In this case, it was our electrician whose lack of manpower severely impacted the installation of our ventilation systems and much of our equipment. Nonetheless, the opening itself was just about the smoothest one I have ever done. It was certainly smoother than the opening we did eight years ago at our old location, and it was by far easier than when I opened the new restaurants at the Guthrie four years ago. Most of the logistical difficulties have been technological in nature.
Our staff is fantastic. Of course, we brought along almost everyone from the old location, but we needed to triple the number of people we employ. We were very fortunate to be able to hire very serious minded and creative professionals. Most of the new hires are people who have worked for me before. In fact, I have known three of them for over twenty years. For some of them, this will be the third or fourth time that they have been in my employ. For others, like Adam Harness who left Town Talk Diner to join us as our bar manager and mixologist (He hates that term!), this is the first time they will be working with me or Mega.
While we have seen a steady flow of regulars from our old location over the first two evenings of operation, we have been warmly welcomed by our new neighborhood in Lowertown across the street from the St. Paul Farmers' Market. Some of those folks had been to Heartland when we were still in Macalester-Groveland, but for many of them it was the first time they had joined us. I really couldn't be more pleased with the kindness and generosity of spirit with which we have been received.
Now that phase one of our project has been completed, we are quickly moving forward with the remainder of our renovation and expansion. The banquet rooms should be completed by early next week which is good since our first party is scheduled for August 3. They will be followed by our local foods market which should debut at the end of August. We have plans to open for Saturday and Sunday brunch, but we want to make sure that we have dinner service as close to perfected as possible before we expand our hours. Sometime next year we hope to launch our wholesale operation which will feature our own proprietary food label.
We had a fair number of visits from our friends in the industry, and their impressions have been very favorable. Both Alex Roberts and Tim McKee have been here as have pastry chefs Khanh Tran and Nickie Francioli and chef Derek Moran of Nick and Eddie. Scott Davis, former Auriga partner and now co-owner of Toast wine bar and 45th Parallel Sprits distillery, asked me if I had fallen on my head once he saw the size of the place which is around 18,000 square feet of total usable space.
For now, I plan on reveling in the relief in knowing that we are finally open and are on the right path to future continued success. A couple of months from now we should have things pretty well fine tuned just in time for the beginning of our busy holiday season.