New state restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 have forced Keg and Case Market to close for four weeks just as the spacious food hall was welcoming new tenants to replace those that have left.

Two years after it first opened in the former Schmidt Brewery warehouse at 928 W. Seventh St., Keg and Case has been undergoing a transformation. Management is “reimagining” how to make the food hall and artisan marketplace successful, according to Gates Lindquist, Keg and Case’s executive director.

Governor Tim Walz’s latest emergency order forced all bars and restaurants in the state to discontinue sit-down service for the four weeks beginning November 21, though they have the option of continuing with takeout and delivery services. But because Keg and Case is classified by the city of Saint Paul as a food court, the entire space is limited to a total of five customers at a time under the governor’s mandate, according to Lindquist. That restriction was unworkable for the other tenants, she said.

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Fernando Cavazos with fiancée Katie Hoffman and daughter Cienna, 7, ordered cups of ice cream from Sweet Science clerk Haley Wireman-Sobba at Keg and Case Market last week. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Just two outlets at Keg and Case continue to offer their products through online ordering and takeout. Clutch Brewing is selling crowlers of craft beer for pickup at the entrance, and Pimento Jamaican Kitchen is offering its full menu for pickup and delivery. All other tenants said they hope to return when Governor Walz lifts the ban on indoor dining, which could be as early as December 18.

The market was considering bringing back its outdoor European Christmas Market this winter. However, when earlier COVID-19 restrictions limited both outdoor and indoor gatherings to 150 people, Keg and Case abandoned those plans in favor of seasonal vendors at indoor kiosks.

Business has been a struggle this year at Keg and Case. Tenants got a boost this summer when the market expanded outdoors with food trucks and a stage for live music. The market was considering bringing back its outdoor European Christmas Market this winter. However, when earlier COVID-19 restrictions limited both outdoor and indoor gatherings to 150 people, Keg and Case abandoned those plans in favor of seasonal vendors at indoor kiosks.

The temporary “pop-ups” would join Clutch Brewing, Pimento Jamaican Kitchen and such Keg and Case mainstays as Five Watt Coffee, Revival Smoked Meats, Bread & Boba, Pastamore, O’Cheeze, Forest to Fork, Sweet Science Ice Cream, House of Halva, Hobby Farmer Canning Company, Studio Emme and Sana CBD.

 

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Woodfired Cantina recently moved into the former In Bloom restaurant space. Other new merchants include Big Fluff, Nadia’s Boutique and Part Wolf Woodworks.

In Bloom, a fine dining establishment with an award-winning chef and the largest woodburning hearth in the city, may have been too upscale for regular customers. Owner the Twist Davis Group closed it in July, blaming its demise on the decline of fine dining across the country.

Woodfired Cantina owners Brian and Sarah Ingram appreciated the decor and the hearth at In Bloom. “We loved In Bloom, but we couldn’t afford to go there often,” Brian said. “Our concept is more approachable and one that the neighborhood can afford.”

The Ingrams, who also own Hope Breakfast Bar off West Seventh Street and the Gnome Craft Pub on Selby Avenue, have patterned Woodfired Cantina after the food Brian enjoyed in Southern California and the Tijuana area of Mexico.

The Cantina features a tequila lounge on the upper level, and this fall it set up three igloos on the patio to protect outdoor diners from the elements this winter. However, those plans have been put on hold until Governor Walz restores sit-down dining. In the meantime, the Ingrams are offering many of the Cantina’s meats and salsas at the Gnome on Selby. They will not do takeout at Woodfired Cantina because the restaurant, with its open-hearth cooking, is not set up for it, Brian Ingram said.

Big Fluff is another one of Ingram’s projects. The shop features cotton candy, gourmet hot chocolate and a s’mores bar.

Nadia Dunlap thought her Nadia’s Boutique would be a good fit at Keg and Case. It features vintage and one-of-a-kind clothing and jewelry as well as Dunlap’s own designs.

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Sana CBD Full Spectrum Oil grower and seller Lee Kosse displayed some of her wares at Keg and Case last Thursday, the day before the marketplace temporarily closed due to the state’s new COVID-19 restrictions. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Part Wolf Woodworking sells handcrafted tables, cutting boards, charcuterie boards and wall art. Craftsman and owner Tony Koens has another full-time business and does the woodworking in his free time, “for fun,” he said.

Among the tenants who have moved out of Keg and Case are Bogart’s Doughnuts, HandModMN, K’nack Meats, Evla Pottery, Faribault Woolen Mill, and Barkley’s Bistro and Wandering Kitchen.

Rick Reams of K’nack Meats said he did not renew his two-year lease when COVID-19 left him short-staffed. “We were doing well before COVID hit,” he said. Reams is a partner in K’nack’s parent company, RJ’s Meats in Hudson, and he plans to include Keg and Case as a drop-off location for sausages ordered from the Hudson butcher shop.

Rose Street Patisserie closed its kiosk in Keg and Case Market last March in response to the health concerns of its staff, according to spokesperson Mary Quinn McCallum. However, owner and pastry chef John Knaus and his business partner and wife Elizabeth Rose plan to expand the kiosk by taking over an adjacent stall in preparation for the reopening of Keg and Case. The couple closed the Rose Street Cafe in the adjacent Rathskeller building in July due to the pandemic; however, their Bread Lab  in the same building continues to create wholesale products for the Rose Street Patisserie at Selby and Snelling avenues and other retail clients.

Other business operators who have been at Keg and Case since its inception are cautious about what the future holds. O’Cheeze manager Greg Reid said business was good during the summer when outdoor bands attracted customers, but it has been “quiet” since cold weather arrived.

Pastamore co-owner Stuart Kaufman is more optimistic about the future of his family-owned business, which features packaged handmade organic pastas, bottled olive oils and balsamic vinegars. He established the business 12 years ago at the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market and expects to remain at Keg and Case indefinitely.

— Carolyn Walkup

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