Making Change at The Mint
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When we featured The Mint in these pages five and a half years ago, chef-owner Dominic “Mimmo” Lombardo, known mostly at the time for Italian cooking and his family’s restaurant Stefano’s, shared his vision for The Mint—and it did indeed include owning a restaurant in a former bank. He said: “Banks and restaurants have the same agenda. They have street visibility, plenty of parking and are built to last.”
In the case of The Mint, whose name reflects the building’s former use as the Bank of Pennsylvania and was built in 1955, a lot can happen in five years. The restaurant has become a fixture of the neighborhood—something Lombardo does not take lightly. The Mint, after all, remains a pub at heart—with or without the prefix “gastro” applied to it. In five years, a restaurant can open and close. It can sell to new owners. It might switch around its concept entirely. Chefs come and go, servers and bartenders leave through natural attrition. And, of course, the menu changes from time to time, in content and presentation—but also its philosophy.
“We’ve changed the way we change the menu,” says Lombardo. Instead of changing it four times a year, roughly aligned with the seasons, The Mint now has a core menu that changes twice a year. (And they’ve brought back lunch.) Anniversaries often provide natural breaks for reflection. “It was time. It is important to show people that there is no finish line in the restaurant world. There is no champagne or bouquet of flowers, none of that,” he says.
Certainly, restaurants need to innovate to stay fresh, but change is not considered lightly.
Lombardo’s a thoughtful chef; don’t let the vibrant colors, innovative takes on classics and the funky bathroom door fool you. “We don’t change for the sake of change. It’s always with intent,” he says. The menu is the message the kitchen wants to convey to diners, so when it changes, the conversation needs to reflect that, too. Menus that change frequently are typically more aligned with the seasons, so one might assume the inverse: a place that’s changing its menu less frequently is not interested in offering anything seasonal or local. Well, that’s not entirely the case. In fact, this counterintuitive approach makes good sense.
“We always struggled with the dichotomy of sourcing locally and maintaining the consistency of offerings associated with a local pub,” says Lombardo. When offering classic and popular dishes such as mac and cheese and burgers, they don’t necessarily lend themselves to the kind of extensive menu alternations that invite seasonal foods. He mitigates this issue by offering a dessert such as a cheesecake with “seasonal fruit,” which may be peaches, pears, berries—depending. It’s one small measure toward sustainability.