Byte, geeky, 'living wage'-paying Minneapolis restaurant, is closing this month


Byte catered to a geeky crowd of Minneapolis diners who cared about workers' pay... but couldn't get enough of them into its downtown location. Mecca Bos

Byte, the geek-themed restaurant that proudly paid its employees a living wage, will close for business on October 28.

Byte announced the news in a Facebook post mid-day on Monday. The post made no mention of the living-wage philosophy Byte identified with when it opened in March, and instead blamed the inability to attract enough customers to afford its downtown Minneapolis location:

"Opening Byte has been a roller coaster of an adventure but the love you all show for our food, concept, and staff is what keeps us going day in and day out. While we have enjoyed a steady and loyal customer base, we’ve also struggled with getting the volume necessary to make our business model fiscally viable in this location."

Byte was at 319 First Avenue N. in downtown, in the location once occupied by the Foxfire Lounge music venue.

Byte was opened by Travis Shaw and Mark Lowman, former chefs at the downtown Marquette Hotel, who planned to hire a dozen full-time employees, plus a few part-timers. Each staffer would get paid $15 an hour, front- and back-of-house workers alike.

The chef/owners said this decision got them politically charged "hate mail," with some critics calling them "snowflakes." In keeping with a consciously "geek pub" theme, the restaurant stocked board games at each table. 

Here's how City Pages wrote about Byte's menu back in March, soon after it opened:

"In addition to counter service, one of the the methods for keeping costs under control is menu crossover. So, you’ll find chicken in one of the appetizers, two of the salads, two of the wraps, and one of the rice bowls. Black vinegar pork appears in two of the preparations, and flank steak in three. It is noticeable, and it’s probably something they’re going to have to amend if they want to get a lot of repeat business. One attribute Minnesota diners are known for is wanting choice. And while we’ve gotten better about not running out the door like the tablecloth has caught fire when we see fewer than 15 menu items offered, these guys will want to prove that they have a repertoire."

In their message to Facebook followers, Byte's owners said they would "love to spend our last two weeks celebrating what we have built," and urged those who'd supported the restaurant to continue coming until its doors were shut for good.

"So please stop in to see us and have your favorite dish one more time! Stay tuned for some closeout special features in the coming weeks and info about our big Last Day Halloween Bash!"

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