After nearly a decade as general manager at the former Lucia’s in Uptown, Heather Asbury is running her own south Minneapolis restaurant.
Heather’s (5201 Chicago Av. S., Mpls.) has revived the former home of Mario’s, which has been empty and forlorn for 15 years.
“We’re really excited to be a part of the neighborhood,” said Asbury. We’ll have accessible food that’s good for families. “I like to say, ‘We have to eat three meals a day, seven days a week.’ We’ll try to meet people in the middle, so they can come for any reason, and bring the kids.”
Asbury quietly opened the doors last week, and is slowly phasing in the restaurant’s all-day plan, which will eventually include breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
This week, she’s cooking from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the goal of eventually offering counter service from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, then switch to table service at night and on weekends.
“It’s a gradual opening,” she said. “We’re starting slow, and building. The idea of having a big opening is overwhelming to me, so I decided to ease into it.”
When she moves into full-tilt mode, Asbury’s menu will feature biscuit sandwiches, scrambled eggs, a daily frittata and steel-cut oatmeal at breakfast; eight sandwiches (fried chicken, open-face tuna melt, basil pesto-grilled cheese), salads and soups at lunch; and four appetizers (white wine-steamed mussels, a snack board) and nearly a dozen entrees (roasted cauliflower steaks, chicken paillard, a New York strip steak) at dinner, paired with a handful of inexpensive side dishes. Most daytime prices land in the $7-to-$15 range, with dinner prices averaging in the mid-teens. There’s also a selection of baked goods, plus espresso drinks, beer and wine.
Asbury trained at the vaunted Culinary Institute of America, and spent the early part of her career opening restaurants in Nordstrom stores all over the country. Her career at the retailer evolved, moving from the kitchen to the front of the house. When she returned home to her native Twin Cities, she continued in the same general manager role at Lucia’s, where she was a friendly fixture for nearly a decade. Now she’s back in the kitchen.
“Which is probably why I’m having so much fun,” she said. “We didn’t start with a general manager, or a chef, we’re just waiting to see what the neighborhood demands. If a really great chef comes along, I’ll go to the front of the house, or if a great general manager appears, I’ll stay in the kitchen.”
After leaving Lucia’s, Asbury went into catering. While she found herself enjoying the challenge of managing five separate weddings on a Saturday night, she began to miss the restaurant industry’s constant human connection.
“At Lucia’s, you really got to know the neighborhood, and the people,” she said. “You watched kids grow up, you became a part of people’s lives. With weddings, it was intense for a short time, and then you never talked to them again. I want to be more involved in a community, I want to have more meaning behind my work.”
The cheery 47-seat space – the work of Minneapolis architect Aaron Wittkamper – is certainly designed as a people-magnet. One of the most notable features is behind the eight-seat bar: a wall of gleaming green ceramic tiles, hand made by the folks at Mercury Mosaics in Minneapolis.
“Green is my favorite color,” said Asbury.
Asbury has more elements on the horizon: a walk-up window will serve espresso drinks and soft-serve ice cream, and a patio will emerge by mid- to late-summer. Another warm-weather asset will be the Nokomis Farmers Market, which convenes on Wednesday evenings (4 to 8 p.m.) in a church parking lot across the street from the restaurant. The market’s 2020 season opens on June 17.
“I’m looking forward to being able to connect with farmers,” said Asbury. “I’m planning on buying out whatever they have left over, and then featuring the produce the next day. That’s a really cool opportunity for me.”
Asbury said she considered “about 400 other names” before deciding upon Heather’s.
“I’ve never really been in love with my name,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m playing on the fact that a lot of my training came from Lucia’s, and that the space used to be Mario’s. There’s a natural progression to it.”