The northeast Minneapolis space that was home to Popol Vuh is coming back to life.
"It was so depressing to walk through Popol Vuh and not see life in there," said co-owner Jami Olson, describing the upscale contemporary Mexican restaurant that she closed last month. "And to sit on it for another year and hope that it could be what it once was, that was a big risk. It's a risk opening a new concept, but a fast casual concept makes sense."
That fast-casual concept is ViV!R (1414 Quincy St. NE., Mpls.), a cafe/bakery/market that will operate as a companion to Popol Vuh's original sibling, the taco-centric Centro.
"With Centro, we've been learning so much about how to do a takeout program, and that will definitely help with ViV!R," said Olson. "We've been thrown into this madness of change, every day, and when you're in the battle, you learn to be resilient."
Chef/co-owner José Alarcon, working with pastry chef Ngia Xiong, will offer seasonally minded dishes along the lines of a fried fish sandwich, a kale salad with a poblano-avocado dressing, steak chilaquiles, ceviche and all-day breakfast items.
The pastry counter will feature mole chocolate cupcakes, tres leches cake, cinnamon rolls with guava paste and cream cheese icing, sweet and savory empanadas, a handful of breads and other traditional favorites.
"The neighborhood is going to love it," said Olson.
The bar will continue its emphasis on Mexican wines and agave spirits, with a limited menu of cocktails (both prepared to order and on tap) and take-home cocktail kits. ViV!R will also include a coffee program ("But we don't want it to be a coffee shop," said Olson), with a focus on traditional cocoa drinks.
A retail marketplace will stock Mexican textiles and foods, along with housemade salsas, sauces, candied nuts, snacks and grab-and-go items. Other merchandise will include pottery, kitchenware and greeting cards created by northeast Minneapolis artists.
The former Popol Vuh space is being reimagined by Shea Design of Minneapolis, which was responsible for the original design. One big change: The kitchen's showy wood-burning grill is out.
"We wanted so badly to keep the wood fire, but for this concept it wasn't efficient for us to keep the fire lit all day long," said Olson. "The beautiful grill works are going into storage."
The shared lobby with Centro has been eliminated and ViV!R will have its own entrance. A 40-seat patio (an asset that Popol Vuh lacked) is also in the works for next spring. The counter-service operation will feature 38 indoor seats, and the space is being tailored to accommodate takeout and curbside pickup needs.
Look for a September opening.
"We're really excited about it," said Olson. "It's nice to have something to be excited about."