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Food & Drink

Ex-Travail Trio Want You to Enjoy a Leisurely Lunch at Dahlia

Hospitality-driven, daytime-oriented, pastry-forward. We like the sound of that.

left: dahlia's colorful, bold, squiggly logo. right: a gorgeous, gooey, ham and cheese croissant, looking flaky and magical
Those lovely, hand-rolled, sourdough croissants? You better believe they're on the menu.
Dahlia

Maybe it’s the pandemic, or maybe it’s the natural end result of the fast-casual boom, but it just seems like there are fewer and fewer places where you can get a nice lunch in this town.

That’s been particularly frustrating to Alex Althoff, Sarah Julson, and Nat Moser. The three longtime Travailians—chef Moser and creative director Julson worked on assorted Travail Kitchen & Amusements projects for about eight years apiece, executive pastry chef Althoff for four—just don’t see the same hospitality you get at dinner service applied to daytime meals.

“We feel like there’s something missing here in the Twin Cities,” Althoff says. “I can’t find anywhere to go to brunch. I’m like, ‘I’ll just cook an egg sandwich at home. Drink a beer.'”

Althoff and Moser are married, and their favorite meals are shared when they have a day off together: waking up, getting ready, doing chores, and then going out to eat lunch together. So soon, along with Julson, they’ll take matters into their own hands with Dahlia.

“It’s going to be very daytime-oriented, so breakfast and lunch, heavy pastry program,” Julson says. “We love savory foods and rich foods, so that’s kind of where our menu is headed.” You can for sure expect the lovely, hand-rolled, sourdough croissants Althoff spent two and a half years perfecting during her time at St. Genevieve, pictured above.

“I think breakfast and lunch especially are thought to be really light meals… and not that heavy’s the right word, but we want it to be much more bold,” Julson says. You can get a sense for what’s to come from their branding, which makes a bright and splashy statement—”less of that soft patisserie tradition.”

Dahlia will be a space where people can stick around as long as they want, like a coffee shop that’s also a full-service restaurant. “Not like traditional restaurants, where you’re turning the tables fast and getting as many people in as possible just to pay the bills,” Moser says. To sustain that laid-back energy, Dahlia will also offer catering and wholesale pastries.

And for now, that’s where they’re starting: with a series of pop-ups and catering as they make plans for their future restaurant.

As for the name Dahlia? “Dahlias are the best flowers on the entire planet,” Althoff says. She has a dahlia tattoo, and her garden dahlias are a point of pride (and frequent subject on her personal Instagram). They’re beautiful and hardy, and symbolize commitment and kindness—their steadfastness captures perfectly what the Dahlia trio want for their restaurant.

Speaking of Instagram, that’s the best way to follow along with their journey for now. It’s where they’ll be announcing more info about their first pop-ups and do more giveaways, like the cake contest they’re running now. It’s also where you’ll find early info about their forthcoming Thanksgiving drop—without giving too much away, it might have a little something in common with the popular family meals they’ve prepared at Travail these last few years.

Rather than trying to do too much too soon, Althoff, Moser, and Julson want to approach Dahlia in a way that feels scalable and sustainable, really emphasizing work-life balance in a way that the industry… just hasn’t, for all the talk there was about it during the pandemic.

“We want to leave a footprint on the industry altogether as far as the way we run the business,” Moser says. “That’s the biggest reason why we want to start small.” Sure, they could take out a big loan right off the bat to start building their dream restaurant, but “we want to start slow, and, if it makes sense, keep going.”

If all goes well—and with these three industry vets at the helm, we imagine it will—the future Dahlia restaurant won’t be far off, bringing the Twin Cities a place to “celebrate the opportunity of the day, eat lots of good food, have a drink or two, a cup of coffee, and then continue about your day,” Althoff says.