Heather's taking over long-vacant Mario's spot in south Minneapolis

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Ever since its former owner died without a will in 2005, ushering in 14 years of probate messiness, the former Mario's space in south Minneapolis has been a vacant eyesore. 

Now, finally, 5201 Chicago Ave. S. will come back to life as Heather's. Heather Asbury, who served as GM at recently shuttered Uptown institution Lucia's for eight years, plans to open the 46-seater by early January. 

"We took it over in April, and we’re doing a complete overhaul," she says. "When I got in there it was a blank shell, and we learned it needed a lot of love."

Asbury's landlord, Mastnian LLC, acquired the former Mario's property for $325,500 in 2018, according to county records.

Once Asbury and architect Aaron Wittkamper are done with the space, it'll feature a dining room, small bar, and deli take-out window for food, coffee, ice cream, and bakery treats from Rustica. The "fluid" menu will take advantage of seasonal ingredients from local farmers, Asbury says, and the vibe will emphasize community and family. 

“In that neighborhood there's a lot of young families, and my approach to food is I cook things that people want to eat on a regular basis," she explains. "Keeping it rotating, keeping it fresh." 

Heather's will offer a grab-'n'-go family dinner of the night — a spin on meal-delivery services, but with less commitment and zero cooking. The nightly meals will be prepared to "respect the family table," Asbury says, with wholesome, well-sourced ingredients.

Like many other neighborhood restaurants, Heather's won't seize on the newly won right to sell hard liquor. Instead, drinkers can choose from craft beer and wine while enjoying happy hour. 

Asbury, who went into catering after leaving Lucia's in 2014, is eager to revitalize the brick mom 'n' pop shop that sat empty for so many years. 

“I've always been looking for an opportunity to do something that embodies that spirit of community," she says. "Something that’s more fulfilling than just doing a job."