The nerdy café and bar is based on an employee-first restaurant model.
Before they knew they were going to open a geeky pub and café in downtown Minneapolis, Travis Shaw and Mark Lowman wanted to open a restaurant that didn’t pit them against their employees. So they made their own.
The two are the founders of Byte, a no-frills coffee shop and affordable hangout spot that will open in the Warehouse District by next spring. And the employees, from cooks to dishwashers, will earn a $15 minimum wage, vacation time and benefits.
Shaw, who previously worked as a hotel and corporate chef with Lowman, another chef, said the model is meant to cut out the stress of making restaurant operations more efficient by exploiting workers through low wages.
“It’s a huge problem in this industry right now. It’s been hitting us pretty hard, especially in Minneapolis. There are restaurants that can’t find workers. There’s not a great career in this,” Shaw said. “The model is what we based everything around.”
Byte balances the benefits with a quickly executed, efficient and globally inspired menu with fresh, albeit conventional ingredients, along with counter service without the need for servers or tips. The 100-seat restaurant will occupy a 2,900-square-foot space last home to Insomnia Nightclub on 1st Avenue, located across the street from the Fine Line Music Café.
As far as the geeky side of the concept goes, Byte will focus on being a hangout for people to play a selection of available board games (think One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Settlers of Catan) or their own games. Geeky groups could use the place to meet or rent out the space on Sundays when it’s closed. They are also working with Minneapolis-based artist Adam Turman to paint a nerdy mural in the entryway.
“We’re geeks. Chances are if we’re going to open this restaurant we’re probably going to spend most of our lives in here after that point, so why not make it something that we really like? Geeks are our people,” Shaw said.
Byte will cater to happy hour crowds and groups to host board game nights thanks to a d20 happy hour (guests will roll a die to get discounts) and its homey snacks and comfort food.
For food and drink, Byte is casual, Shaw said. Their current menu features a variety of sandwiches, rice bowls, salads and appetizers with Mexican, Vietnamese and Indian influences, and nothing goes above $10. There’s a signature Byte burrito with chicken mole rojo for $7.50 and a Byte burger with tomato bacon jam, pepper jack cheese and a brioche bun for $8.25 with chips. For beverages, Shaw said they plan on having beer and wine. Byte will have four-tops in the main dining area, located in the back, and a patio area open in the summer months.
In the front, Byte will have more of a café operation with a bare-bones coffee service and a selection of specialty drinks, such as Thai and milk teas and Vietnamese coffee. Byte won’t be serving espresso or latte drinks.
Shaw is planning to have Byte open beginning at 7 a.m. for coffee with the main menu starting at 11 a.m. The restaurant will be open until 1 a.m. during the week and 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, he added.
The restaurant at 319 1st Ave. N. is on track to open next March.
For Shaw, Byte isn’t just a restaurant, it’s their philosophy put into action.
“I don’t really care about getting rich off of this. I’d rather just have a job that I can go into and cook and do my job and feel good at the end of the day that I’m not screwing other people over,” he said.