MOORHEAD - Nate Sauvageau is grateful for second chances.
The co-owner of Usher’s House is now down to the last of training new hires and punch list items to check off in advance of the restaurant’s May 15 reopening in the heart of downtown.
Usher’s House had hardly been open 10 months at 801 Main Ave. when it closed on March 16, 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic bit down on the region.
And it remained closed.
“It was a stressful time for us,” Sauvageau said Tuesday, May 4. “There was just so much uncertainty. In the winter months there was the spike in cases. And closing and reopening is expensive ... so we thought we’d maintain and get through the whole thing, put our best foot forward” when the pandemic eased.
At first glance, the clean, traditional diner look of the tables and chairs appears unchanged.
But Sauvageau and his wife and co-owner, Melissa, have made subtle additions: a custom wooden wine rack now displays bottles next to the front counter, and a few more televisions and some Minnesota-focused art are on the way. The windows have been tinted to reduce the glare of the sun and vehicle headlights at the busy intersection of Eighth Street and Main Avenue. E-tab gaming on iPads will also be available.
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The most noticeable difference is the menu.
Previously, the focus was on fine dining: steak, seafood and other upscale dinner options.
Now the options are slimmed down to 25 items, with more small-plate tapas.
Executive Chef Cary Carr says the emphasis remains on creativity and quality ingredients, but with price points friendlier for casual diners - $8.99 to $16.99.
Appetizers, salads, sliders, tacos, cheese plates, poke bowls, seabass, shrimp, walleye, rack of lamb and ribeye deckle will all have spots on the menu, which is more take-out friendly.
“Considering all the feedback that we got, and considering everything that’s happened over the last year with COVID, We’ve decided to make our format more social, a little more laid back,” Sauvageau said.
“It’s going to be fun!” Sauvageau said. “Just trying to promote that casual atmosphere, where people can do a lot of sharing, tasting, trying.”
The restaurant is also aiming to be more competitive with its bar Happy Hour options, Sauvageau said.
Sauvageau said the small-plates menu fits the downtown Moorhead niche market better than the more formal dinner service that had been carried over from Usher’s original location at 701 1st Ave. N., overlooking the Red River (in what is now RiverHaven Events Center).
“We noticed that at this location, a lot of people were coming for small get-togethers … and a lot of dates, too, a lot of date nights,” he said.
Sauvageau is heartened by the transformation of downtown Moorhead, with more dining and nightspot options.
Rustica Eatery & Tavern and Swing Barrel Brewing are nearby, and there is a growing number of apartments and condominiums popping up within walking distance.
“We’re seeing kind of that dream of Moorhead revitalization really taking hold” downtown, he said. “The whole downtown is really coming together.”
Sauvageau said he’d like to add outdoor seating on the small plaza in front of the restaurant for the nice weather months.
He’s also looking forward to a return to catering weddings and other events, which accounted for more than half of his business before COVID shut big gatherings down.
Usher’s House will be open Tuesday through Saturdays to start. Hours will be expanded as trained staff are added, he said.
“It’s a relief,” to be open again, Sauvageau said.
“We’re just thankful to have a second chance to be back in business,” he said. “It’s been a long year.”