Augustine’s on Selby, which has been closed since the end of December, is coming back with a new focus, a new business model and a new chef.
Award-winning chef Lenny Russo is consulting with the revamp, and he’s hired chef Derik Moran to head the kitchen. Russo’s wife, Mega Hoehn, is the general manager.
The concept is neighborhood bistro, and the menu will be full of simple, well-executed dishes, but what Russo wants us all to know is that the restaurant will be operating under what he sees as the future of wage structures. There will be a service charge, there will not be tipping, and all employees, from dishwashers to line cooks to servers, will make a wage of at least $20 per hour with benefits. Oh, and everyone gets a three-day weekend.
Russo said the pandemic, while devastating for many restaurants, is also an opportunity for the industry to change the business model that had so many of them operating on the razor’s edge, and to pay workers a living wage, provide benefits and upend a tipping structure with “racist, sexist roots.” Russo said tipping began as a way for employers to pay women and people of color “basically slave wages” and to depend upon the kindness of strangers to survive.
“We’re in the middle of social upheaval, an uprising, people taking their voices to the street, carrying signs, chanting, putting signs on their lawn,” Russo said. “All that is really great, but if we aren’t really willing to do the work that systemic change requires, it’s all just going to be a bunch of hot air.”
As for the menu, Moran, most recently of the Dakota jazz club, said it’s rooted in simple French food, where the focus is on obtaining quality ingredients and allowing them to sing.
“We will have all the qualities of a French bistro with a modern touch,” Moran said. “Mussels, baguette, tartares, frites … really good ingredients prepared really well without a lot of fuss.”
Expect 12 to 15 menu items, separated into small and large plates, which will rotate with the seasons. The opening menu features items like a pork terrine mussels, bass, a sirloin from Peterson Craftsman Meats, and, of course, because we are in the Twin Cities, a burger.
The bakery part of the operation — which became hard to staff once the pandemic hit — might be gone, but pastry chef Toni Luschen, formerly of Lucia’s, will be creating desserts worth seeking out.
They’re keeping all menu items below $30, and though there will be a full bar, Russo said, batched cocktails and simple classics will keep things streamlined, along with a decent beer list and wines on tap.
Really, they’re aiming for an unfussy place where neighbors can gather over some good food and drink.
“This is a place people can go and be very satisfied and feel comfortable,” Russo said. “As great as Derik’s food is, it’s not pretentious, it’s very satisfying.”
Augustine’s: 1668 Selby Ave., St. Paul; augustinesmn.com
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Author: Jess Fleming