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St. Paul suffers spate of restaurant closures due to COVID-19

*pours out a glass of Super Tuscan*

*pours out a glass of Super Tuscan* Pazzaluna / Facebook

In case it’s not yet clear, the coronavirus is coming for the hospitality sector. 

Over the past few days, closures affecting the Capital City’s dining and entertainment sceneeach with unique, decades-long track records—trickled in, adding to the virus’s devastation. 

No neighborhood (or suburb) was spared. Legacy doesn’t seem to offer much protection, either.  

If a silver lining can be found in their parting words, it was the suggestion by some restaurants that they aren’t ruling out the possibility of reincarnation—different locations, new plans, amorphous hope on the horizon. 

They’re not done trying, even if they can’t right now.

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St. Peter Street’s beloved Italian joint, Pazzaluna, announced its 21-plus-year tenure in downtown St. Paul has ended. The more casual, jubilant sister to the St. Paul Grill closed to guests on March 17. In its parting message, owners Morrissey Hospitality cited “immense gratitude” for their customers and the legacy they’ve created, and hinted that this might not be the end-end? “When Pazzaluna served its first guest in 1998, it created a new urban Italian dining experience in the Twin Cities. With that legacy and an eye on the future, we are reimagining new possibilities and investigating new opportunities for the Pazzaluna brand in the future and in new locations,” they wrote. 

Meanwhile, over in Highland Park the Cleveland Wok won’t be reopening either. The neighborhood favorite debuted in January 2000, and steadily cultivated a customer base with its Chinese takeout and buffet, until a fire devastated the restaurant 18 months ago. Owner T. Bui explained that her decision to not reopen the Wok was a combination of the havoc wrought by that fire and the pandemic changing the restaurant game. 

“We have many loyal customers, and people have been waiting for us to reopen. But still, I don’t know how well the restaurant would run in this economy,” she told the Pioneer Press. Like Pazzaluna, Bui is leaving the door open to Cleveland Wok reincarnating at a new location, somewhere down the line. 

Technically, we guess you could say the Wabasha Street Caves had been “open” since the late 19th century, when the caves were converted from silica mines into mushroom farms. Purchased by Donna and Stephen Bremer in 1994, the historic 12,000-square-foot venue ranked among the Twin Cities’ most unusual, as it was carved directly into the bluffs. That space, too, will be closing this fall. 

The Bremers rely on event-based income from swing dancing nights, lore-rich gangster tours, weddings, and assorted other soirees to keep the lights on. But with mounting cancellations and predictions that include caps on attendance lasting throughout 2020, revenue has failed during the pandemic. So they’ve decided to give it one last prime season, then the Caves will permanently close in November. “It takes an effort to get things going again; we've done it and we're done,” Donna Bremer explained to the Star Tribune.  

Slightly farther afield, all the Bonfire restaurants have announced they will permanently close, too. Formerly known as Axel’s Woodfire Grillwhose flagship on Grand and Victoria in St. Paul opened in 2003 and shuttered back in 2018 due to a lease issue—the mini-chain will close its remaining outposts in Eagan, Savage, and Woodbury. 

Though it would seem things hadn’t been going well, the virus simply proved one burden too many. “We were already walking a fine line before COVID-19, and given that no one knows how long the impacts of this pandemic will last, or what the new normal will be, we do not see a viable path forward,” said the company via a statement