Luke Shimp has been a longtime institution in the Twin Cities food scene.
For years, he was the CFO and co-owner of Blue Plate Restaurant Company, the umbrella company of such places as The Lowry, Groveland Tap and Longfellow Grill. But in 2012, he announced he would be leaving to start his own venture – Red Cow restaurants.
The first opened in Edina, and two more quickly followed in Cathedral Hill and North Loop.
Now, Shimp is again creating a new hot spot for Minneapolis diners.
Keeping with the color and animal theme, Red Rabbit is hopping on to the Minneapolis dining scene this fall.
Joining Shimp in this adventure is Chef Todd Macdonald.
A native Minnesotan, Macdonald returned to the Twin Cities food scene in 2015 after years in New York when he opened Parella, a high-end Italian eatery located in Uptown’s Calhoun Square.
Just six months after opening the now-closed restaurant, he joined Shimp at Red Cow; a move that surprised many in Minneapolis’ food scene.
Known for his Italian cuisine, the shift toward all-American burgers left many speculating what the two restaurateurs were up to.
Despite sharing a color with Red Cow, Red Rabbit will be a new venture featuring pizza, pastas and oysters — food all within Macdonald’s sweet spot.
The space, located at 201 Washington Avenue in North Loop, will have an accompanying patio, named The Greenhouse. Red Cow mixologist Ian Lowther will create the cocktails there as well.
Prior to the expected opening of fall 2016, Macdonald and Shimp took time to chat with me about how Red Rabbit came to be and what diners can expect from the new kid on the block.
Clearly there is a connection to Red Cow, but, tell me, why did you decide to go with the name Red Rabbit?
Shimp: We wanted a name that would be memorable, easy to pronounce and align with our current brand Red Cow. In my experience, colors and animals are easy for people to remember and creating logos around them can be fun and whimsical.
What was the inspiration behind creating a new concept, as opposed to simply adding some items onto the menu at Red Cow?
Shimp: I have always been a pizza guy and have wanted a neighborhood pizza restaurant. I have been waiting for the right piece of real estate and 201 Washington fit that bill. Pizza, pasta and oysters all go well together and together are their own concept. I felt like if we added them to Red Cow it would have muddled that focus. Red Cow is all about burgers. Don’t get me wrong, our culinary team does all our food well, but burgers are our primary forte within that concept.
It seems that restaurants who have one clear focus that they execute with precision are the ones that have a strong following. Tell me a little bit about the Italian influences on the menu.
Shimp: I would say we are less Italian and more pizza, pasta & oysters. There are certainly Italian influences within the dishes, yet we are not solely focusing on Italian cuisine. Our inspiration for flavors originates from all over the USA, regions of Italy and Mediterranean cuisine.
Sounds like there will be some delicious dishes! So, the new space will have a patio called The Greenhouse. Are the patio and Red Rabbit two different concepts?
Shimp: The Greenhouse is what we will be calling our patio area. It will be enclosed by a glass structure with a roof that opens. It will resemble a greenhouse, hence the name. We will also grow herbs in it to be used in our cocktail and culinary program.
Sounds like a beautiful spot! Will diners be able to get the same cocktails at Red Rabbit that are available at The Greenhouse?
Shimp: The entire menu of cocktails and food will be available in both areas. They are technically one-in-the same. The Greenhouse will have a more garden-esque feel than the inside space.
So, while they are technically one-in-the-same, will they have the same hours?
Shimp: We have not determined those nuances of the business yet, but most likely no. We will keep our kitchen open until midnight, just like we do at Red Cow.
How many seats will The Rabbit sit? The Greenhouse?
Shimp: There will be 125 seats inside and roughly 70 outside (we are still drawing up the outside space).
Sounds like a wonderful neighborhood spot! So, can you share any of the cocktails that will be featured?
Shimp: Ian has a lot of ideas, but none have been tasted and approved yet. We will have six tap cocktails/beverages, though and there will be a couple of Tiki drinks as well. We launched a seasonal Tiki when we opened Red Cow and it has been a hit.
Yum! Tiki drinks are always a great bet! So, tell me, are you envisioning Red Rabbit expanding as Red Cow has?
Shimp: Yes, I could see more than one Red Rabbit. Pizza is still one of America’s favorite cuisines to eat out.
True! Pizza is always an American favorite. So, speaking of food, will diners at Red Rabbit experience a similar feel to Red Cow?
Macdonald: From an experience standpoint, our team is committed to providing the same high-energy, high-level of service at Red Rabbit like we do at Red Cow. One of the cornerstones of Red Cow’s success has been our service, and that will certainly carry over to Red Rabbit. The team will be utilizing the same leadership training and traits of a leader we have used at Red Cow to achieve the desired results. We will also be utilizing our in-house Sommelier Jason Kallsen to curate the wine list and perform staff training, and in-house Certified Beer Server Grant Fabel to train our team on craft beer. Ian Lowther will run the cocktail program and training.
It sounds like you have a real dedication to making sure your servers are as knowledgeable as possible and are providing consistent service across restaurants. Are you hoping diners will see a relation between Red Cow and Red Rabbit, or wanting them to be two separate entities?
Macdonald: We hope our guests relate the two. Our goal would be for Red Cow’s raving fans to hop-on and become equally loyal fans of Red Rabbit. Our gift cards will be interchangeable between the two brands, our Director of Operations, Josh Hoyt, will oversee the leadership of all four properties. Ideally, one night you’re out for burgers at Red Cow, the next night you go to Red Rabbit for pizza, pasta & oysters.
So, when you returned to the Twin Cities you opened Parella. Coming off of that, will diners see any familiar flavors?
Macdonald: My mixed green salad will be back in a similar capacity, as will a pasta or two. I have a lot of great ideas that I wasn’t able to get to at Parella, so I will be rolling a few of those out here. However, this is a different concept and a lot of what I was doing at Parella doesn’t necessarily lend itself to Red Rabbit.
Shimp did mention that influences for Red Rabbit range from all over the USA and Mediterranean, which is broader scope than Parella was. I’m sure diners will be eager to taste your new dishes! So, lately several higher-end Italian restaurants have closed, how do you think this one will differ?
Macdonald: I think that we will be finding a dining seam that isn’t quite as exclusive or precious. We want to have an everyday feel and cultivate the neighborhood vibe. We want Red Rabbit to be a meeting place with a comfortable, casual atmosphere.
I think diners are really drawn to restaurants with that feel. Tell me, what is one menu item you are really excited about?
Macdonald: I’m excited about the spaghetti and meatballs. It’s one of those iconic dishes that is so simple, you have to hit it out of the park with all of the flavors. I believe we can do just that.
I can see how classic dishes that seem simple can often be the hardest to execute. It sounds like this one will be a hit! So, the press release mentioned “pizzas, pastas, oysters, fresh salads & more,” can you tell me a little bit about what the “and more” will entail?
Macdonald: “And more” refers not only to our craft cocktail program, but to our commitment to seamless service. In regards to the menu, I have some fun antipasti as well as a few unique sweets to finish up with.
Are there any flavors you are experimenting with that you haven’t highlighted previously?
Macdonald: We will be making our own Italian Fennel Sausage, among others, in house. I’m really looking forward to getting back into sausage making and showcasing that in our menu items.
That sounds delicious! I can’t wait to try it. So, obviously Red Rabbit will be focusing on a different type of food, but will there be similarities in flavor profiles between Red Cow and Red Rabbit?
Macdonald: I think that both restaurants feature crave-able dishes with distinctive flavors that diners will want to return for again and again.
I’m sure there will be a lot of customers from Red Cow that will be eager to try Red Rabbit and will become repeated consumers! To finish, if there was one dish that you would recommend for diners to try, what would it be?
Macdonald: I would recommend the burrata with broccoli pesto, tomatoes and black olive crostini. It is a wonderful composed cheese dish that plays on the sweetness of the cheese and spiciness of pureed broccoli pesto. This is accentuated by the tart acidity of the tomato and the crusty, salty olive toasts.