Peter Hoff has a lot of ideas. The Duluth native, chef and part-owner of the new NOLO’s Kitchen, opening October 9, and the downstairs Basement Bar shares a nonstop stream of them as he walks through restaurant space in the former Gardner’s Hardware building. The old character of the building must remain, but the finishes should match the sophistication of the neighborhood. He’s adamant that there be no Edison bulbs and the kitchen becomes a work space to train young chefs. Hoff’s goals are as simple as they are ambitious: create an easy room that serves some tasty, uncomplicated food and also help make the world a better place by lifting up those who need help the most.
Hoff grew up in Duluth and moved to the Twin Cities where he became a workman chef in kitchens at places like Bacio and Zelo. He moved to California for a time where he worked at Tender Greens, just as the massively successful hospitalitarian Danny Meyer came into the company.
This will be his first turn at restaurant ownership and has partnered with Marty Collins who owns McCoy’s Public House along with several Kansas City restaurants and Brett Johnson, who’s family has run The Hilltop Restaurant in Edina for the past 40 years.
“I’m not trying to do anything too fancy,” said Hoff. “This isn’t special occasion dining. We’re cooking familiar food, just in my style. That means I’m going to find the best eggs, best beef, best ingredients that we can.” He’s been forging relationships with farmers and touring makers of things in preparation for the restaurant.
At the center of the room there is a bar and the walls remain the exposed brick that’s become the calling card of North Loop design. There are plenty of plush banquettes for hanging with friends as well as tables for two if intimate dining is your objective.
The large kitchen could double as a showroom. Its in here that Hoff hopes to make the biggest difference. “When I was at Tender Greens we had a program that worked with foster kids and youth who needed jobs. Kind of like an apprenticeship. They start out by working the dish pit, taking out the garbage and then we teach them how to hold a knife and do prep work,” said Hoff. Those that wanted to, could advance to working the line and then launch into the culinary employment world. It’s the kind of program where everyone wins, kids that need guidance and jobs get a chance and chefs have a chance to help build the next generation of cooks as the industry continues to face staffing issues.
Upstairs, the menu will be straightforward, pasta made in front of guests at the chef table, a burger made with Peterson’s ground beef, entrees with ingredients that your grandmother can pronounce. Meanwhile, downstairs, well, that’s where we get weird.
“I want this to have that snowmobile bar vibe,” Hoff said. That’s Northlander shorthand for jeans and flannel are welcome. There’s going to be a pull tab booth that benefits Ducks Unlimited and a stage that will likely get a heavy workout from local bands and, if the stars align, a weekly drag-queen-led meat raffle.
Food will be ordered at a window and served in paper boats. There will be a stand of Old Dutch potato chips and a menu with items like a bacon-wrapped hot dogs with hot sauce, chili sofrito and crushed Cheetos. Upstairs the burger will be a thick patty number in the In n Out Double Double style, where downstairs will be little squishy, steamed burgers easily crushed by the handful.
The restaurant opening is fast approaching and there are a myriad of other ideas Hoff and his partners are hoping to include in their North Loop venture. “It’s funny what details suddenly become important to you,” he said, describing a shelf made out of yard sticks in homage to the building’s history. “But, yeah, it’s going to be cool.”
NOLO’s Kitchen opens Monday October 9 and the Basement Bar will follow suit soon after that.