Another four-star Minneapolis restaurant is closing its dining room. But it’s not closing its doors.
Citing “major financial losses” during the first half of the year, the possibility of a resurgence in COVID-19 and a seasonal drop in business during the colder months, “I realized the best thing I could do to ensure the safety of my team and ensure we have enough resources to open in spring or summer was to go into a holding pattern,” said Alex Roberts, who owns the restaurant group with his wife, Margo.
“We don’t want to lose Alma,” Roberts said. “We want to do something that can ensure we can stand up fully again.”
Beginning Nov. 2, Alma will cease indoor and patio dining at its restaurant and operate strictly as takeout business and boutique hotel. The 20-year-old restaurant (528 University Av. SE., Mpls.) rode out the early months of the pandemic with weekly “dinner for two” takeout meals. Those ended when Alma relaunched seated dining — with its hallmark prix fixe dinner service — about two months ago.
Under the new plan, the kitchen will offer hot dinners and brunches that serve two, as well as a weekly supper that can be heated and served during the week. The casual Cafe Alma will switch from a daily takeout menu to weekend-only coffee and pastries. Seasonal boxes and a selection of provisions — such as coffee, spices and olive oil — will be expanded, as will Margo Roberts’ line of handmade candles and soaps. A cheese, wine and bread subscription is also in the works.
Thirty-seven workers will be laid off, Roberts said, with the hope that by summer 2021, Alma can return to full-service dining and full staffing.
“I realize these actions are affecting people’s lives,” Roberts said. “But I’m making a decision that can have the biggest impact on the greatest number of people. We’ve been reacting all year. This is proactive for the safety as well as the financial security of Alma.”
Meanwhile, sister restaurant Brasa Premium Rotisserie is getting ready to open a third location at 812 W. 46th St., in the former Studio 2 Cafe space in southwest Minneapolis. (The other two are at 600 E. Hennepin in northeast Minneapolis and 777 Grand Av. in St. Paul.)
The opening is on track for Oct. 1 or 2, Roberts said.
The plan had been in motion since last fall, and when the pandemic hit, “I thought about pulling the plug,” Roberts said. But Brasa was already doing strong takeout business before the pandemic, which continued as people stayed home.
“We were able to flex up to 65% of our normal business, which is enough to be on solid ground and be stable as a business,” Roberts said. “That was huge.”
When the newest Brasa opens, all three menus will be identical, and will be takeout only.
As the seasons change, Roberts is optimistic Brasa’s business will remain steady, but he admits opening a new restaurant in a pandemic comes with some worry.
“It’s not always intuitive to quiet one operation down and be expanding another,” he said. “The solutions right now are one-size-fits-one, not one-size-fits-all.”