Nancy Edmonds Hanson
It came as a surprise, even though Altony’s Italian Café and Wine Bar lacked a long-term lease at the Hi-Ten Shopping Center. One night last month, owner Ryan Alford and his staff were cooking up their Italian specialties in the spot the homegrown restaurant had occupied since 2012. The next day, Ryan learned the former Taco Bell he’d helped remodel seven years ago – and his landlord wanted him out, lock, stock and barrel, in just 30 days.
But with the help of some friends and fans in Moorhead, the eatery will be back in business by early December, and Ryan will be whipping up his famous Lasagna, Penne Alfredo, Confetti Ravioli and Rosa Tortellini all over again.
Losing his location was an unexpected blow for Ryan, a Louisiana transplant who first came to Moorhead working for a roofing company. Though he had managed the restaurant for his friend Terry Kennedy for seven years before buying the business himself in 2018, he had never started a restaurant from scratch. From building permits and licenses to working with contractors, the bills were piling up, he says, while no money at all was coming in the door.
But then Moorhead supporters stepped up. Contributions started coming in to a GoFundMe account set up several weeks ago; today the total is nearly $5,000 and still rising. Sheri Larson and Nick Lehr of the Moorhead Business Association got wind of the challenge and have helped him make connections in the community. They pointed him toward his new location at 800 Holiday Drive, the former site of Little Caesar’s Pizza west of the Moorhead Marriott Hotel. Nick jumped in to assist him in setting up a nifty new website bearing his mouthwatering menu to lure take-out and delivery orders. And a member of the MBA who wishes to remain anonymous contributed $6,000 to match others’ GoFundMe donations.
The new location boasts four six-top tables in the front and eight booths; another five or six can be seated at the “line board” facing the kitchen. When he reopens next month, though, Ryan expects another of the location’s features will play a bigger role – the take-out window. “Take-out used to be maybe 25% of our business,” he says. “Now it’s at least 70%. Only a few of our regulars were still sitting down.” Most customers either pick up their meals or use a delivery service like DoorDash.
Ryan says he does it all – cook, wait on tables and answer the phone. “I make sure everything is taken care of,” he says. He is looking to rehire a staff in coming days to be ready to open his doors in December.
“All of your old favorites will be back,” he assures customers. He aims to maintain the restaurant’s reputation for big portions at reasonable prices. His made-from-scratch three-course meals will be back, too, including a salad and ice cream for dessert. “Our goal is to get rid of the fancy advertising and slogans,” he says. “Instead, we’ve focused on our authentic Italian food — and can we just say, it’s pretty amazing.”