As legend has it, Peter Runge’s pizza was so good, that when he would cook with the doors open to their St. Louis Park home, people walking by would stop by to see what smelled so good.
Is that true? Is it his wife, Wendy, talking up her husband’s skills? Both may be the case. But what is coming out of that legend is Basil, a vegetarian, CRC-certified-kosher, New York-style pizza restaurant. Aiming for a Feb. 1 opening (keep an eye on their Facebook page for the official opening), Basil is taking over the storefront of the now departed Vitali’s Bistro (5101 Minnetonka Blvd.)
“We’ll see,” Peter Runge said. “It’s up to the city and how fast people can turn stuff around. I’m grateful for all the people who are excited.”
Runge’s dream was never to run a restaurant, but his wife, Wendy, helped encourage him.
“I told him everyone loves your sauce,” she said. “He’s humble and he thought he wasn’t good enough. I told him the community needs this, and he’s the only guy in town that could do it.”
Peter Runge hasn’t operated a restaurant before but has plenty of food experience. He’s worked as a sous chef at Prime Deli, catered events, and ran wholesale food operation at Upscale Foods and Twin City Poultry before those businesses closed in 2011.
“I have good people helping me who have past restaurant experience,” he said. His friend Anthony Zucker, a Florida restaurant owner, has given Runge ideas about how to be efficient when the restaurant opens. The recipe for the dough came from J II Pizza South in Lakewood, N.J., a popular kosher pizza establishment. “I was there for 5 days learning the art of the dough. They were very generous. Hopefully, it’ll be well received.”
Runge said the most challenging part of the process is putting the menu together. The centerpiece will be 18-inch pizzas, which is larger than most other pizza places in town, he said. There will be refrigerated cases near at the front of the shop where quick-serve salads will be packaged to go.
There will be “faux” meat options for the pizzas, as well. “I have no problem putting meat-alternatives on the pizza,” he said.
Wendy Runge said that French fries will also be on the menu; the pairing of pizza and fries are a popular East Coast Kosher pizza restaurant duo. There will also be some Mediterranean/Israeli food like falafel, Israeli salads, hummus and tahini platters, as well some sandwiches and crepes, the latter of which was a staple of Vitali’s.
The hours he’s anticipating will be 8 a.m.-10 p.m., serving light breakfast and Peace Coffee. He’ll close early on Friday for Shabbat and reopen after Shabbat ends on Saturday night.
Being Kosher is obviously important to the Runges, but Peter knows that Kosher alone isn’t enough.
“This is more a ‘it-happens-to-be-Kosher-place,'” he said. “It might be good for Kosher, but it has to be good for everybody. We need to get it off the ground, make the food excellent, and people will want to come back.”