Roma Market in Mahtomedi will be returning to its roots this February by replacing one of its dining rooms with a specialty meat market.
The decision was partly spurred by the steep drop in in-person dining during the long months of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Grocery is something the government’s not going to shut off,” said Roma Manager Brian Pilrain. “It makes more sense long term to have this wing as a grocery store, and we still have the west wing for dining.”
Pilrain said the east wing of the building has been basically empty for nearly two years. The pandemic followed swiftly on the heels of major reconstruction on County Road 12, which had already caused a serious decline in business.
Last summer, the business converted its rear parking lot into an outdoor dining and performance space. The open-air environment was ideal for keeping up the restaurant business during the warm summer months.
“It fit so well for us, for a few months when things were good outside, we kind of forgot the restaurant was shut down,” he said.
When the business first set up shop in Mahtomedi, it was named Roman Market, and a fresh deli and meat market was its primary offering. It has expanded considerably in the intervening years by shifting location, incorporating a restaurant and bar and even developing a brewery and live performance space.
The new addition of a meat market is not only a creative way to respond to the challenges of the pandemic, Pilrain said, but also a return to the business’ roots. The grocery and deli will offer a wide variety of smoked meats and fish, as well as Boar’s Head deli meats and cheeses. Homemade dishes such as lasagna rolls, meatballs, and smoked chicken wings will also be available. Scratch-made deli salads and sides such as potato and pasta salads will add some non-meat options.
“We make it here, so we’re able to have unique flavors, like wild mushroom risotto,” Pilrain said. With health and fitness in mind, he’s even considered adding a power bowl with whole grains to the menu.
The offerings at Roma have always been inspired by the tastes of the ancient Roman Empire, drawing from culinary traditions across Europe and the Mediterranean. In keeping with this theme, Pilrain anticipates classic European offerings such as Scotch pie, a type of traditional meat pie from the British Isles.
“We started this company on having a fresh market and deli 15 years ago, and customers expressed they missed that,” Pilrain said. “This is the time to bring it back on a bigger scale.”
The new deli and market opened to the public Feb. 1.