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Punk Chef Pizza and Bar taking its shot at topping Fargo-Moorhead's pizza pack

Co-owner Nate Sauvageau says the radical turn from fine dining to 'zahs with attitude should be the concept that leads to success for downtown Moorhead's Block E restaurant and bar.

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Punk Chef Pizza and Bar is pictured Tuesday, May 24, 2022, at 801 Main Ave., Moorhead.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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FARGO — HEY! HO! LET’S GO! HEY! HO! LET'S DOUGH!

Channeling the punk rock spirit of The Ramones, Punk Chef Pizza and Bar is finally ready to party in downtown Moorhead’s Block E Building.

Nate Sauvageau is betting this third restaurant concept for 801 Main Ave. S.E. is a charm.

“I’m ready to be open. It would be nice to have a good summer where we can get our feet under us. And then when the college kids come back, we’re looking to show them a good time,” Sauvageau said Tuesday, May 24. “Hopefully, we’ll be at the right price point where they’ll want to come and see us a few times a week. And when they don’t want to see us, we’ll deliver to them.”

North Dakota artist Punchgut has brought a bad-to-the-bone theme to the restaurant, adding punk-themed wraps and murals to the windows and wall - heavy on the mohawk skulls. He’s also bringing his touch to the bar and pizzeria’s website, T-shirts and other merchandise.

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But Sauvageau, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Melissa, is confident their 'zahs and pasta will grab the spotlight for young families, singles and college students that fill nearby homes and apartments.

Armed with his father-in-law’s dough and sauce recipes, and a knack for experimenting with toppings and cheese, Sauvageau expects his thin-crust, brick-oven pizzas, covered with “high-end cheeses,” to top the area’s pizza pack.

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Nate Sauvageau talks about Punk Chef Pizza and Bar on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Moorhead.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Among the specialty pies are:

  • The Blitzkreig Bop. White sauce, German sausage, sauerkraut and “a barrage of cheeses.”
  • The Backdoor Hippie, marinated mushrooms, asparagus over white bechamel sauce covered in provolone and mozzarella
  • The Fredo, a chicken and bacon alfredo pizza.
  • There is also a build-your-own-pizza option.

Sizes for now are a 10-inch personal pizza and 16-inch large. An 18-inch pizza may be added in the fall.
Pastas include a house-made spaghetti, chicken alfredo, sweet and spicy cavatappi, seafood linguine, and a mac and cheese, Sauvageau said.

Service will be order-at-the-bar.

The restaurant has also retained its beer, wine and spirits license and will have full bar service, he said.

The concept change is a major pivot from the previous two Block E building iterations of Usher’s House, which took solid aim at the fine-dining crowd. Both attempts were hamstrung by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first concept was open 10 months before state-mandated closings of bars and dine-in restaurants in mid-March 2020. That closure ended up lasting about a year.

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Manager Cassie Keller and chef Cary Carr stand in the dining room of Punk Chef Pizza and Bar on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Moorhead.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

When the restaurant reopened in spring 2021, it offered a slimmed-down menu and small-plate tapas, aiming for a more laid back and social vibe. That lasted until just before Christmas, when the restaurant closed again, unable to source ingredients to keep the menu consistent through the holidays, Sauvageau said.

It was time for “a new birth,” he said.

“As far as inflation goes and the supply chain problems we were dealing with, it got to the point where we weren’t able to sustain our menus,” Sauvageau said. “Pizza doesn’t have that same problem.”

Pizza is also more approachable for a broader group of customers and affordable.

“We wanted to have an approachable price point. And pizza allows us to do that,” he said.

Beyond the art with attitude, the restaurant has been freshened up and has a more industrial feel. The wine rack that dominated the entry window is gone, replaced with a wall of Punk Chef merchandise. A few more televisions have been added to the room, and they’ll show Atmosphere TV, a streaming service that includes channels with extreme sports and artistic and inspirational material. E-tab charitable gaming is also available.

Picnic tables and umbrellas will be added to “activate the patio,” which looks out over the busy Main and 8th Street intersection.

The restaurant is intent on being family friendly, with an arcade machine (programmed with about 1,600 games) to be installed, and entertainment tablets for children on order and expected to arrive in about a month, Sauvageau said.

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A Punk Chef Pizza design is printed on a shirt seen Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in the downtown Moorhead pizzeria and bar.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

While there has been a lot of change, he said he’s fortunate to have retained key senior staff, including Chef Cary Carr and General Manager Cassie Keller.

The restaurant will be open 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday over the summer, with plans to expand hours in the fall and winter, he said.

Delivery is planned for the Concordia College and Minnesota State University Moorhead campuses, local breweries and the immediate neighborhood. There will also be daily specials and a daily carry-out special.

The restaurant officially opens to the public on Wednesday, June 1. A friends and family "soft opening" will be held Tuesday, May 31, Sauvageau said, but they'll also serve folks who happen to wander in.

Sauvageau said he’s determined not to give up on making an eatery succeed on the high-profile corner.

“We made a commitment. We want to see it through if at all possible. We’ve been doing this as a family for about 13 years, so we’ve had all sorts of ups and downs. So, not our first rodeo as far as rough times,” Sauvageau said.

The new breweries, apartments and increased traffic also bring promise of added business.

“We’ve been in Moorhead a long time and we’re determined to stay in Moorhead. We hope to be another good addition to downtown. And maybe this concept feeds that downtown food traffic a little better,” he said.

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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