Minnesota's 3 biggest food headlines of 2017

Buying booze on Sunday: What a liberating feeling [Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune]

Buying booze on Sunday: What a liberating feeling [Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune]

Don’t give a damn about chef shuffles and menu changes?

Even you likely followed these developing stories, which transcended the dining scene to become some of the biggest news in the Twin Cities this year.

1. Sunday Liquor Sales Arrive

For evidence of our country’s Puritan background, look no further than blue laws, those regulations that restrict what folks can and can’t do on Sundays. Blue laws persist in several states—mostly in the form of banning liquor store operations—and Minnesota’s was on the books for 159 years, ever since the formalization of statehood. Blessedly, we can say “was,” as the state Legislature voted in March to axe the law and give liquor store owners the option to sell booze from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Welcome to the 21st century.

The passage of this law is the result of years of campaigning—and assuaging the concerns of independent liquor store owners, some of whom worried that staying open seven days a week would drive up operating costs and make them less competitive with big-box stores. Given that Sunday sales have only been in effect since July 2, whether or not those cost-driven concerns will be confirmed remains to be seen. In the meantime, they’re a boon to anyone who can’t plan ahead when it comes to buying booze.

Surdyk’s Liquor & Cheese did get a little ahead of themselves, opening on Sunday, March 12, before the new law went into effect. For jumping the gin—sorry, gun—Surdyk’s paid out $50,000 in fines and had to remain closed for three Sundays after the new law went into effect. (The penalties don’t appear to have put any cramp in the store’s style.) Elsewhere, the folks at Haskell’s outlined what Sunday sales would mean on their blog: “You can be spontaneous! Brunch Mimosas just got easier. Sunday beers with brats just got faster. And while that Wisconsin beer run has been fun (we love you Wisconsin, but it’s our turn), your thirst can be quenched faster, quicker, and easier, seven days a week! No more stocking up on Saturday or running dry on Sunday.”

As the Puritans would’ve said: “Amen.”

2. Minneapolis Adopts $15 Minimum Wage Ordinance

In late June, the Minneapolis City Council was almost unanimous in its decision to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. This across-the-board increase will be phased in over the next five to seven years; businesses employing more than 100 people must hit the target in five, while smaller businesses have seven. The increase is meant to keep pace with the rising cost of living and, ideally, improve quality of life for hourly workers.

Skeptics of the ordinance wonder if upping the minimum wage will lead to the closure of small businesses. Raising prices on drinks and food may not be enough to offset the increased costs of labor and may alienate customers, they worry. Council member Blong Yang was also concerned that the higher wage would prove a barrier to folks who want to start their own businesses, particularly people of color.

Ask proponents, and they’ll tell you the increase is a huge accomplishment—a step toward leveling the playing field and recognizing the importance of formerly lower-wage positions. It also acknowledges the reality that pay hasn’t kept pace with inflation (check out the Economic Policy Institute’s nominal wage tracker if you feel like being sad) and seeks to redress that, at least in a small way. And as Minneapolis goes, so goes St. Paul, whose city council is now considering a similar ordinance.

However, in early November, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis, saying the ruling conflicts with the state law that sets the minimum wage. The Chamber lodged a similar lawsuit regarding the city’s Earned Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, a suit they lost. We’ll see about this one.

3. Owners of Club Jäger and Loring Pasta Bar learn that yes, there are consequences for your actions

We don’t know, maybe donating $500 to ex-KKK leader David Duke’s Senate campaign wasn’t such a great idea. But former Club Jäger owner Julius De Roma did exactly that. In August, the bar’s entire staff quit when they discovered De Roma’s donation, and scheduled performers pulled out of their gigs. Managers eventually shut down the whole joint, leaving De Roma high and dry. He said his donation constitutes free speech.

De Roma wasn’t the only bar guy in town who got taken down in 2017 (a year which, despite general, all-around terrible-ness, will perhaps be remembered as the one when men learned what consequences are). Former owner of Loring Pasta Bar Jason McLean has been ordered to pay $2.5 million to one of five women suing him for sexual abuse perpetrated during his time as a teacher with the Children’s Theatre Company. (That figure, conveniently for McLean, is almost identical to the $2 million for which he sold the Varsity Theater back in June.) Loring Pasta Bar closed but reopened in August, and is now owned by three former Pasta Bar managers and minted with a new name: Loring & Pharmacy Bar (or LRx).

Click here to read more stories from our Year in Food 2017 issue