Anna Morgan and Kevin Manley have stacks of notebooks filled with ideas for their dream restaurant. Those dreams are finally coming to fruition as the couple prepare to open GusGus next month at the former Stewart's (128 N. Cleveland Av., St. Paul).
Along with those stacks of ideas come two impressive résumés: He was the executive chef at Snack Bar, and she was the general manager at Meyvn. The two met in 2012 while working at the lauded Minneapolis Warehouse District restaurant 112 Eatery.
Between jobs the two would jet off to travel the world together. After 112 Eatery, it was an extended tour of Europe. After Meyvn, it was Montana. In each location they would go out and jot down ideas inspired by what they loved, never knowing when the time would come to open their own place.
"It was the strangest thing, but the first time I walked into Stewart's I thought, 'I wanna own this place someday,' " said Morgan. "I felt the same way when I first went to 112 Eatery. The dim lights, low ceilings — I fell in love with this place."
In March, Manley, who had briefly worked at Stewart's with owner/chef Max Thompson, got a phone call that the chef and restaurateur was looking to sell and he hoped the spouses would be the buyers.
The couple are borrowing a page from chef Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre, the spouses who run 112 Eatery, Snack Bar and Bar La Grassa, three beloved Minneapolis restaurants with fine-dining pedigree but comfy vibes. Morgan said she remembers St. Pierre saying "Create the place you want to go."
The place they want to go is a good neighborhood restaurant that serves St. Paul, where Manley has deep ties. An uncle worked at Hamm's Brewery, so cans will absolutely be on the bar menu "for cheap." As will Jell-O shots, something Morgan admits to having a small obsession with.
The menu will be the same mix of not overly serious, but seriously good fun inspired by their travels. A poutine will sport cheese curds from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery with braised oxtail and giant gnocchi. Look for dishes similar to a charred cucumber salad they had in San Sebastian, Spain, or like the sweet whole roasted beet they shared in Tulum, Mexico, with Chinese sausage standing in for the chorizo, served with a bunch of fresh herbs in a tangy sauce.
"I've wanted to own a restaurant since I was little," Morgan said. She even had plans to attend culinary school until she realized that hospitality might be more her realm. With Morgan at the front of the house and Manley in the kitchen, the restaurant is a full family affair — it's even named after their son. (Not the chubby mouse from "Cinderella," because people have been asking.)
With a planned February opening, GusGus' hours are expected to be Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 to 10 p.m. and brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.