Edina’s Happy Hour Boost

18 months after the liquor law change, Edina restaurants have upped their game.

A small card on the table of Mozza Mia near 50th and France advertises a Monday special: 10 bottles of wine, each priced at only $10. In the back room, a group of artsy partyers learns brushstroke techniques at a bi-monthly event sponsored by Wine and Canvas, taking advantage of the $10 bottles.
Since Edina’s liquor ordinance was changed in May 2012, allowing restaurants to advertise discounted drink specials, businesses are finding plenty of creative ways to market themselves and their specials, including innovative new events.
The city’s liquor law history goes something like this: Even after Prohibition was lifted for much of the country in 1933, the only way Edina residents could enjoy a drink within the city limits was by purchasing their own alcohol at a liquor store (there was only one in Edina at the time) or going to one of two area country clubs. These restrictions were put into place in Edina as a way to curb excessive drinking and to distance the city from the negative image of big-city bar scenes. It wasn’t until 1985, thanks to help from Edina’s Chamber of Commerce, which saw it as a business issue, that the city’s restaurants were allowed to offer wine. And even then, customers had to order food before being allowed to drink alcohol. In the late 1990s, the ordinance was amended to allow for hard liquor, but restaurants could not offer discounted drinks unless they appeared on the permanent menu.

Edina happy hour
Some persistent restaurant managers and other local proponents forged ahead, collaborating with the Minnesota Restaurant Association and finally succeeding last year in persuading the city to allow owners to set their own price points, create discounts, offer half-price bottles of wine and make happy hour a reality. The limit is two-for-one drink specials, mug clubs or games that encourage patrons to drink more; those are still prohibited.
Stephanie Shimp, co-owner of Blue Plate Restaurant Co.’s Edina Grill, says the change in ordinance has been a boon, giving restaurants more flexibility to better serve customers with fun and entertaining events. She says Edina Grill is marketing to customers in new ways and offering specials they couldn’t dream of before.
“We can now do beer dinners, and events like ‘Meet the Brewer,’ where we feature the great craft brewers we have right here in town, like Fulton, 612 and Indeed,” says Shimp. “There was a Ladies’ Night Out event in the neighborhood last summer, and we were able to have a bubbly bar  afterwards. We would never have been able to do something like this before.”

Edina happy hour
Events like those Shimp describes may have been commonplace at restaurants around the Twin Cities, or even just blocks away at Red Cow or Pig & Fiddle, on the Minneapolis side of 50th and France. But because restaurant owners couldn’t advertise drink discounts, these events weren’t part of the restaurant scene in Edina until recently. Hosted by the 50th and France Business Association, last July’s Ladies’ Night Out event began with a fitness-inspired “happy hour” 5K run, followed by shopping discounts from participating shops during a night market, and the Bubbly Bar at Edina Grill and Cocina del Barrio (two complimentary bubbly coupons valid for a glass of wine were attached to participants’ race bibs). The association also hosted a pub crawl in August that started with free beer samples at Edina Liquor and included stops at Edina Grill and Cocina del Barrio.
Shimp says advertising drink discounts hasn’t markedly changed the kind of customers she sees. “We’ve seen a few new faces, but I think the bottom line is that our new specials and events just make us more attractive to our regular clientele,” she says. “We actually used to see people leave from three to five to go other places. Now they can just stay in the area for happy hour.”

Southdale and the Galleria

Before May 2012, while 50th and France customers in search of drink specials could find them a few blocks away in Minneapolis or St. Louis Park, patrons of Southdale-area restaurants might choose to head south to Bloomington’s 494 strip for happy hour. So it comes as no surprise that most Edina establishments that serve liquor are now offering discounts to re-attract the populace.

Restaurants at the Galleria have taken advantage of the change, with most now offering happy hours or drink specials of some kind. In fact, happy hours have been so successful for Big Bowl that the establishment now offers them seven days a week from 2 to 6 p.m. Big Bowl general manager Pam Wubben is thrilled at the results.
“Our business has doubled since last year, and I think it really is because we can use those words ‘happy hour,’” says Wubben, who has been at the Galleria restaurant for three years and with the company for eight. Even with the discounted prices, she’s still seeing customers spend as much as they used to. “In the summer we do happy hour all day on the patio, and those are my busiest sites,” she says. “It’s the power of those words that make people think discount, but they’re still staying to eat. It’s not substituting their orange chicken. It’s in addition to their orange chicken.”

Edina happy hour
A block away, at Tavern on France, the mood is equally upbeat. According to bar manager Mallory Lockwood, although the change in liquor ordinance hasn’t necessarily attracted new customers, it has kept regular customers happy. The restaurant now offers happy hour drink specials Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 9 p.m. to close. “We’re as busy, if not busier,” says Lockwood. “We were always busy during food happy hour, and now customers have something else to be excited about. Overall I think it’s been great for business.”
Lori Syverson, president of Edina Chamber of Commerce, echoes the response voiced by restaurant owners and managers. “I think the change has been very positive,” Syverson says. “Allowing happy hour gives Edina restaurants one more marketing option to compete for business with surrounding communities.”
If anything, the new options available to customers might not be fully appreciated just yet. Despite all the hype after the happy hour ban was finally lifted—and the prudish jokes that followed—the new and improved Edina restaurant scene may still be under the radar. Says Heather Swan, general manager of Mozza Mia (which now offers happy hour drink specials Monday through Friday): “I overheard a woman on the patio say, ‘Edina has happy hour now?’ Some people still don’t even realize the change.”