There are some places in the Twin Cities that have become iconic because of the generations of people that have passed through their doors. We think of 1st Avenue and The Monte Carlo, but another haunt shares that status, and that is The Malt Shop. The Malt Shop on W 50th St in Minneapolis was recently bought and renovated by Rebecca Illingworth Penichot, who is well aware of the shop’s legacy. “We have Grandparents who have been coming here for 50 years,” says Rebecca. And the weight of that legacy isn’t something she takes lightly.
The Malt Shop opened in 1978 and since then, it has become known for its stained glass interior windows, vintage ceiling, and of course, burgers and malts. Rebecca acquired The Malt Shop in February of 2022 after the previous owner retired, and her first order of business was renovation. She retained designer Vicki VanWiele of VanWiele design. Their goal for the remodel was to “modernize while maintaining that same warm, welcome, vintage feel.” When adding new flooring and lighting, it was always important for her to, “keep the same personality and characteristics for the restaurant,” she shared.
During Rebecca’s time at St. Louis Park High School, she had visited The Malt Shop a handful of times. But according to Rebecca, that nostalgia can’t compare to those who “were here every day after school.” The Malt Shop was a place to hang out from the beginning, and that was something Rebecca didn’t want to change. In addition to the other upgrades, such as a 1965 Mustang Booth, Rebecca brought in a Foosball table in the lower level to attract the same crowd, “So many kids have been coming here, and we don’t want that to stop,” says Rebecca.
The revamp of course came with a revitalization of The Malt Shop’s menu. Rebecca wanted to perfect The Malt Shop’s iconic burger. Despite being “sworn to secrecy,” about their recipe, Rebecca said that the real secret lies in fresh ingredients, like the combination of meat in the patty, house-made milk buns and pickles, and not forgetting the carefully chosen slice of cheddar or American cheese. “We still wanted to make sure we had a great burger because people are coming here for burgers, fries and malts,” says Rebecca. Their goal from all this work is to have the, “best burger in the Twin Cities.”
But when it comes to The Malt Shop’s menu, we of course have to talk about the malts themselves. Rebecca and her team decided to not fix what wasn’t broken. “That was such a classic, I think if we would have messed with that, people would have been upset,” she says. Minor additions like upgrading to a higher-quality vanilla ice cream will be the only differences customers find from the malt selection. Otherwise, “It’s the same malts people have been enjoying for 50 years.”
In addition to the traditional selection of malts offered at the Malt Shop, Rebecca and her Consulting Beverage Director, Joshua Martinez, from the Lavender Room in Chicago, have recently acquired a full liquor license. They have added boozy malts, craft cocktails and traditional favorites such as a gin martini, and brandy manhattan.
Rebecca, the daughter of a hospitality compliance consultant and a restaurant architect has had the hospitality industry in her blood from the get-go and takes it very seriously. “I put myself through college serving,” she says continuing, “Hospitality is a career. To treat it like it’s a passing job is incorrect.” Therefore, both her restaurants, Tinto Kitchen and The Malt Shop, offer benefits like paid healthcare to anyone who works over 20 hours per week and two weeks of paid vacation to full-time employees. To her, the explanation is simple: “If you don’t offer those benefits that any career offers, then how can you expect people to stay with you and treat it like a career?” She is grateful to the loyal team members that have been with her for over a decade such as her General Manager, Todd Majeske and Kevin Elvin, her Assistant Manager. Both at Tinto Kitchen. Recently promoted to General Manager, Tra Carter at of The Malt Shop. She also noted the heart-warming support from the community and family, Tinto Kitchen’s Executive Chef Thierry Penichot (also Rebecca's husband) and her son, Cooper Illingworth, whom has been working by her side since he was 15-years-old.
Like many restaurants, Covid-19 posed a serious threat to stability. The switch from a full-service restaurant to take-out only was difficult. “We cannot say that we would be here if not for the community,” says Rebecca. She cites both their neighbors and staff for working through such a difficult time. At the end of the day, Rebecca remains hopeful about the experience: “It gave us an opportunity to slow down a little bit and appreciate what really matters in life,” she says. And what is that if not a cozy place to grab a burger and malt?
For more, visit www.themaltshop.com. 809 W 50th St., Minneapolis. (612) 824-1352.