Cologne House Cafe

Jennifer and Jared Brewington stand outside their latest project transforming the InnTown II Bar & Grill into the Cologne House Cafe.

 

When food, beverage, service and ambiance make up your restaurant’s offering, pivoting to takeout-only means guests are missing three-fourths of the restaurant experience, says Carrie McCabe-Johnston, the chef/owner of Bonafide Hospitality, which includes Nightingale, Mortimer’s Bar, Tilt Pinball Bar, Dusty’s and now Lake City Sandwiches. 

With the need to restrict indoor dining, relying on takeout only has been a struggle, McCabe-Johnston said, adding, “takeout wasn’t in our wheelhouse.”

“We were getting nervous about losing our patio soon, so that’s when we came up with the sandwich idea,” she said back in late September.  

The sandwich idea is pop-up in Nightingale’s basement that previously was used for dry storage and is now a sandwich line. So far, 60 percent of business has been pick-up and 40 percent delivery through ChowNow.  

McCabe-Johnston said she has a “life-long love of sandwiches and more recently obsession with focaccia-style sandwiches" following a trip to Florence, Italy. The bread is baked daily and the 12 types of sandwiches are “filled with thoughtfully curated ingredients,” the majority of which are made inhouse. The limited menu also includes soups, salads and sides such as house-made potato chips. 

In keeping with her commitment to social causes, 50-cents of every sandwich sold will go to a socially concerned charity that supports the community. 

At the time we talked to her, Lake City Sandwiches was open for dinner, but she was looking at a catering menu and lunch hours. 

With a portfolio of diverse eateries, McCabe-Johnston said they’ve had to look at each one uniquely. For instance, Mortimar is a neighborhood bar with a music venue, whose absence caused them to lose part of their identity, back in March when it had to close. Dusty's has a good patio, so that helped. And at Tilt Pinball, patrons can play the machines, but they “have to do it thoughtfully” with lots of  extra sanitation.

“You have to adapt,” she said, sighing. “We’re scrappy, we figure out things as we go. PPP helped us pay off our business loan. It felt like a win, but not as celebratory as it would have been in a normal year. But keeping staff employed has been important to us.”

The sweet smell of smoking meat in Cologne, Minnesota

Jared Brewington is staying close to home with his latest restaurant offering, The Cologne House Café in Cologne, a tiny German farming community in Carver County, with a population of around 1,500.

Once the pandemic hit, Brewington closed his Thigh Times Birdhouse kitchen in The Galley in Minneapolis' North Loop. “Other operators were piecemealing (service) throughout all that confusion,” he said about the three other concepts located in the food hall. “But I didn’t want to put my staff through that, I wanted them to have the consistency.”  His first restaurant, Funky Grits, closed after a little less than a year, and he said he still feels a sense of shame over it. “My restaurant career has been nothing but million-mile-a-day learning," he said. 

This latest endeavor is in his wheelhouse, as well as his neighborhood. He’s taken over InnTown II, one of three bars in town, and made it a restaurant by switching out the dominant bar to a kitchen and replacing the pool tables with dining tables. The menu will be comfort food, like double-chuck burgers, an onion smash-burger, jumbo wings with a dry rub and a smoked brisket Philly. “I did a pop-up with this food and it was a great success,” he said.

Letting the town know about the grand opening won’t be a problem, he said, because “everybody knows everybody—80 percent of the community is on Facebook.” So a single post can reach everyone.

Proximity to Waconia and Chaska will also help fill the seats.

The restaurant is one of four pieces of property, Brewington and his wife Jennifer invested in in Cologne. Jennifer is the economic director for Shakopee, so the idea to invest in their community is one she supports wholeheartedly.

And while development is their new livelihood, living in the country with land and a private woods is good for his soul, he said.

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