Love, Much-Needed Business in the Air for Northland Restaurants on Valentine’s Day

Both Va Bene and New Scenic Cafe were open for limited dine-in options on the holiday.

DULUTH, Minn.- It seemed Valentine’s Day was the first, closest-to-normal holiday in almost a year, especially for restaurants in the Northland. For some, it was the first time opening up to dine-in customers during the pandemic.

“Love is in the air and we’re happy to be a part of it,” said Patrick Moore, co-owner of Va Bene Caffe.

The Italian restaurant on East Superior Street continued with its annual Valentine’s Day Dinner tradition despite the pandemic.

“It’s a 5-course prix fixe tasting menu with wine pairings,” Moore said. “We did it last night too, we do it every year. It’s the only dine-in choice we’re offering with the limited capacity.”

Even with limited seating to ensure social distancing, it was a bigger hit than they initially thought. “We set a sales record yesterday, our highest sales ever in the history of Va Bene,” said Moore. “And with under half capacity, we’re all pretty proud of achieving that.”

“The numbers we saw yesterday, we haven’t seen since July to August timeframe so we’re certainly happy to have that many people looking forward to a good meal on Valentine’s Day Weekend,” he said.

And the staff, he said, was excited for the boost, since reopening dine-in a little over a month ago. “It’s a lot of fun. Everybody that works here said it too.”

“There’s nothing like the hustle and bustle of having guests in the restaurant and getting them that entire experience of hospitality,” said Moore.

Meanwhile, for a quieter experience New Scenic Cafe on Minnesota 61 chose the holiday to welcome customers back in — for the first time since last March.

“This is a lot fewer people for us than a normal Valentine’s Day but it’s still a, still a big change from the past almost year of having nobody in here,” said manager Eric Sturtz.

Sturtz says they’re not opening up regular dine-in just yet, but they’re looking to do more pop-up style opportunities in the near future. And when spring hits, they’ll bring back the Scenic 61 Food Truck outside the café, which they started last year.

On Sunday, the cafe was open to dine-in by limited reservations at specific times to fit capacity rules.

“A lot of kind of advanced planning of picking where we could have tables that are far enough apart, and how many guests,” Sturtz said. “We had three seatings each day with 12 tables at each seating and yeah, we sold out of all of them.”

Like Va Bene, New Scenic offered a tasting menu as well.”I’ve never eaten a dinner like this,” said customer Brian Black. “It was probably two hours we were here and each little course was very unique, very different and it was very special.”

The very new experience paid off for the restaurant, and customers like Black and his wife, looking for a safe return to normal.

“We came out for the first time in a long time, we were able to take my mom out for Valentine’s Day today,” he said. “Lots of safety precautions were taken there and it was very nice to just kinda return to a little bit of normalcy after such a long time.”

According to Sturtz, it was important for them to offer that option, on a day where dining out is important to people.

“In the restaurant world it’s always a very popular holiday, everybody wants to go out and clearly it’s been difficult for everybody to go out for a long time,” he said.

And back at the busy Va Bene: “I think everybody’s been waiting to get out of the house even, despite the cold weather,” said Moore.

“I think they’re looking for a reason to go out and have something to celebrate,” he said, “and the Valentine’s Day holiday is just that perfect reason.”

Categories: Business, Community, Entertainment, Minnesota, News, News – Latest News