Local restaurateur Tim Niver set off minor outburst of internet emotions on Tuesday when he casually dropped a tweet mentioning that he might be looking for a new venture in Minneapolis.
There to weigh in were the ideas people, the people looking for jobs, the people sensing an opportunity and many fans either begging Niver to grace their neighborhood or cursing him for “cheating” on St. Paul, the hub of his latest projects.
Considering Niver is the mastermind behind three popular Twin Cities’ restaurants – Strip Club Meat and Fish, Saint Dinette and the new Mucci’s – such passion is understandable. But how serious is Niver? What does he have up his sleeve? And when can we expect more news?
For now, the Twin Cities trailblazer is keeping mum on the concept of what the potential new endeavor would be, but he did promise it would be totally different from any of the Niver gems we now know, and offered several hints on what he might be looking for, where and why. I chatted with him Wednesday to get a few of those answers – some of them may surprise you.
Minneapolis! Any restaurant spaces available in your neighborhood? I'm officially looking.— niver (@tniver) August 30, 2016
Q: You can’t toss something like that and not expect a reaction. Why the tweet?
A: I was just looking for someone that sees something [a location, a building] that not everybody sees – to find that spot that maybe just closed or quietly closed or that spot that nobody knew about or that dump of a building. Food is really amazing. I know not everybody is on it, but the people that are on it tend to really have some influence. I got a lot of really killer reactions. I had chefs tell me that they’re looking for work. I had people on the real estate side saying ‘Hey, just come to the office,’ and this was the first thing I said and I didn’t really even tell anybody anything. But just the amount of reaction it got was sort of overwhelming and just really, really cool. Also I find for me that when I say something publically, I’ll have to go do it then, I feel guilt if I don’t. So it’s a little private motivator for me. I say something out loud and then it’s like ‘Now I’ve got to freaking go do it.’
Q: So, any hints?
A: It’s really a one-word concept so I can’t really give it away. What we’re focusing on is something that everybody likes that there is a need for. With all the restaurants that are opening right now, everybody’s got an idea, everybody’s got a thing. So we stay kind of cagey and protective of those things. But it will be completely different and nothing like I’ve done before – on trend and pushed out of the confines of what people see fine dining or casual dining to be. And with the changes in the economics from a labor standpoint that are upcoming. I think there really has to be a mindfulness that restauranteurs have. This isn’t a profit business, this is a passion business – but you also have to be able to support it. So there is a real mindfulness that chefs and restauranteurs have to consider when opening a business. This might not be white tablecloth or even the casual fine dining that people might expect. I’m trying to turn things on their head although it’s not revolutionary either. I’m trying to keep it for the people but also make it worthy of the times.
Q: Interesting. Are you looking for a niche that hasn’t yet been filled in Minneapolis? Do you think that’s important when opening a new restaurant?
A: Sometimes. My brain, now, takes me to a place where I can serve more people. Where I can have that volume aspect. That’s not necessarily something I’ve done, but it’s where I’m leaning. Quality is really hard. The hardest thing is really good quality. In a sense, I’m only trying to please like 3 percent of the population, the percent of the population that knows a ton about food and a ton about service – the real foodies. If you get to please those three percent, the other 97 percent should sort of fall into place. If you try to please everybody, I think it’s maybe a wasted shot.
Q: You mentioned the word “neighborhood” in your tweet. That’s been a trend with your other restaurants as well. Why is that important to you?
A: With the Strip Club, that neighborhood is still a challenge, is economically still fighting to gain ground. Even when I just opened Mucci’s in a blue-collar neighborhood, that building was vacant for seven years. We opened it and I’m still surprised at the neighborhood support. They were apparently clamoring for something to happen for this building but it sat empty for seven years. I’m kind of trying to continue that because I really enjoy taking a spot that somebody says is cursed or a dump and making it into something.
Q: What kind of space are you looking for?
A: That’s a really good question. I don’t know. Usually when you have a concept, you can take that concept and imagine the space that you want to build for it and the place you want it to be. That’s kind of a perfect scenario. Usually the way it works for me is I have an idea in mind and then I see a building and I think to myself ‘Oh, I see how this could work.’ I think we want a little bit of a higher traffic neighborhood spot or near neighborhood spot – some kind of a four-corner spot but also with neighborhood accessibility.
Q: Why Minneapolis this time?
A: I’ve done the last three things in St. Paul and there is a lot of crescendo-ing business stuff going on there. The noise is getting louder, and I love that. But I also go to Hola Arepa and see how busy they are and Nighthawks. And I just like the density of Minneapolis for this concept. I just think I need a little bit more – not necessarily foot traffic – but a lot of visitors. (Photo below of Saint Dinette.)