FARGO-Longtime manager Taylor Snelling has some pretty big shoes to fill when he purchases Mezzaluna from local restaurant power couple Eric and Sara Watson, but he's received nothing but well wishes from customers who heard news of the sale Tuesday, March 13.

One regular told Snelling, "It feels like our kid made it to the big leagues."

He's also received praise from a group who dines at the restaurant every Friday night and calls themselves the "Mezzalunatics." Sara Watson said they had nothing but good things to say when she checked the group's Facebook page Tuesday.

Snelling, 26, joined the restaurant as a mixologist in 2014 as a way to support himself while pursuing a degree in exercise science at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Snelling said he felt pressure to get a degree, but he soon realized that the hospitality business was his passion.

"I really fell in love with the job that was supposed to get me through to the job I was supposed to have," he said.

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The husband-and-wife team recognized that passion and began mentoring Snelling early. He's served as a manager at the restaurant for two years now, and he first approached the couple about buying the restaurant last year.

"We've slowly worked towards a sale, making sure we have the right team in place," Sara Watson said. "One thing that's really important for Eric and I is that we want to see Mezzaluna carry on."

Passing on a legacy

The Watsons have been on the local restaurant scene since 2005 when they established Mosaic Catering. In 2012, they opened Mezzaluna in the location formerly home to the Silver Moon supper club.

One of their early hires, manager Joe Docimo, helped them establish a culture that the Watsons say has helped them remain successful over the years.

"I think this is one of the few places we've worked where the front of the house (servers and bartenders) and the back of the house (kitchen staff) get along so well," Eric Watson said. "It's really not optional here. The staff is told day one that is how it works here. You don't get to yell at each other. You don't get to talk trash about one another. A lot of restaurants do that."

Sara Watson further explained, "Our first and foremost goal is to serve each other."

If they do that, they will deliver the best possible experience to their customers, she said.

Snelling was one of the last hires Docimo made before he moved on. Snelling said he values the lessons he learned from Docimo and the Watsons.

"Everything I know about how to run a successful restaurant is from them and all of the procedures and plans they've put in place," he said.

The future

Many who have heard about the sale have asked Eric Watson what's next for the couple. He said they plan to continue operating Mosaic Catering as well as Rustica Eatery, their restaurant and bar in Moorhead. Beyond that, they have no immediate plans.

"Right now, there's a conversation here and there. There is no shortage of opportunities in this town, but we're going to take it easy for a little bit," he said.

As for Snelling, he said he has no immediate plans to change anything at Mezzaluna.

"We're not looking to change over the menu. We just want to prove to people that under new ownership, you still get the same Mezzaluna feeling. You're still going to get the same Mezzaluna experience," he said.

With the help of Executive Chef Joseph Brunner and a great staff, Snelling is confident they can ensure that happens.

"Whether it's regulars or people who come in once a year, we just want them to walk out the door happier than when they walked in. That's really our goal at the end of the night," he said.

BUSINESS PROFILE

What: Mezzaluna

Where: 309 Roberts St. N., Fargo.

Contact: (701) 364-9479

Online: dinemezzaluna.com

Hours: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Happy hour is daily from 5 to 6 and 9 to 11 p.m.