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New eatery embraces tech

Sunshine Kitchen & Moonshine Lounge staff aren't really texting while working. T1 / 5
Matt Taylor (right) and business partner Phillip Holbrook are the forces at wor2 / 5
Sunshine Kitchen & Moonshine Lounge opened in the former Varsity Grill and Bar, 3 / 5
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Call it a restaurant that embraces both aspects of its nature — day and night.

In the day, the Sunshine Kitchen staff dons white shirts, a mellow music track and a daytime persona. At 5 p.m., the signs are flipped, the shirts are black and the music may even come with a live performance and a little more tempo. After all, it’s the Moonshine Lounge’s time to shine. Even the two-sided menus have a night and day motif although customers are able to order from both sides regardless of the hour.

The restaurant on the corner of Mill Avenue and H Street had an unexpected start. Matt Taylor was looking for a new opportunity after the E Squared Cafe closed its doors. While the E Squared had a steady following, it developed within a niche market. With endless opportunities, Taylor wanted to create a restaurant that could capture a larger audience and had the space to do it.

When a bank suggested the vacated Varsity Grill and Bar, Taylor thought it was worth a look and friend Phillip Holbrook, who he worked with in video editing and website projects, happened to be sitting nearby. Taylor invited Holbrook, who directed the movie “Tilt” along. What they saw was a restaurant that was basically left as it was when the previous operators suddenly shut the door, which translated into months of work to clean the place since August with help from workers from Rural Minnesota CEP.

But Taylor and Holbrook were convinced they had a solid concept — with the noon and night theme — and had a restaurant that would work on a side of town that needed something. They wanted an elaborate electronic sign to help signal the change from day to night, but with the price tag, decided they would just manually flip a sign — at least for now.

“In the day, we’re more of a restaurant that has a bar,” Taylor said. “At night, we’re more of a bar that has a restaurant.”

The restaurant includes a stage for live music. The response since opening has been more than they anticipated with friendly support from the neighborhood and area businesses, which Holbrook said has been the best part of opening there.

Their concept, Taylor said, was to make good quality inexpensive food for everyday people.

The menu includes half-pound, hand-pressed patties or vegetarian or vegan friendly Boca burgers. A sugar and spice chipolte burger has fire roasted jalapenos, chipolte caramelized onions, cheddar, provolone and grape jelly. A Sunshine or Moonshine burger includes a fried, organically grown, farm fresh egg and is drizzled with hollandaise or béarnaise sauce. A Cobb burger includes avocado and mixed greens with bacon and creamy feta dressing on the side or customers may order a plain burger. Other menu items include spinach artichoke chicken, Tuscan chicken or a grilled chicken ranch among other sandwiches such as pulled pork and a list of salads. Sides include french fries, sweet potato fries, soup, chili or salad. Prices range from a half Cobb salad at $4.95 to an $8.95 burger with fries or fruit.

The restaurant employs about 20. When hiring they looked for employees who had 300 Facebook friends at a minimum and those who were already using a smartphone, but Holbrook said they made decisions based on personality as friendliness was a tough thing to teach. A focus has been on fresh ingredients, organics and technology.

Kitchen & Moonshine Lounge staff aren’t really texting while working, although a few customers thought so. The iPod Touches they carry are used to take customer orders and relay them to iPads in the kitchen or bar area. The iPods allow the kitchen staff to talk to and see wait staff via Facetime or send a text when an order is ready to go.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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