Muddy Pig founders bring neighborhood bar to Fulton
FULTON — Pig & Fiddle is the third neighborhood bar and restaurant Mark van Wie and Paul Schatz have partnered to open, and their first in Minneapolis.
From the beginning, their friendship and partnership has been all about beer, a fact apparent in Pig & Fiddle’s impressive and always-evolving selection of 36 local, craft and seasonal taps.
Each said they never in their wildest dreams expected to become restaurateurs when they started bartending as a way to make ends meet during college. But they enjoyed the work, liked the money and had the right bar concept at the right time, opening the craft-beer-focused Muddy Pig just as microbrews became all the rage.
They first met in the late ’90s. At the time, van Wie was running Great Waters, a pioneering downtown St. Paul brewpub he co-founded in 1997. Meanwhile, Schatz was tending bar at Cathedral Hills’ now-defunct Chang O’Hara’s.
Chang’s was van Wie’s preferred decompression spot after wrapping up a day’s work at Great Waters. At first, Schatz knew him as the regular who would have a beer while smoking a cigar and working on crossword puzzles.
But then they started talking. A friendship quickly ensued, and Schatz soon found himself partnering with van Wie to open The Muddy Pig near Selby & Dale.
Speaking of the beginning of his relationship with van Wie, Schatz, with a laugh, said “he was annoying me because he was in [Chang’s] all the time, but we started talking and next thing I knew we were opening a bar together.”
Both van Wie and Schatz lived in Seattle for a spell after college and were impressed with the burgeoning local craft beer scene there. Upon moving back to the Twin Cities, van Wie realized there was a niche in the area for a bar serving quality beers.
“The craft beer thing first blew up right around the time I changed jobs and moved back to the Twin Cities,” van Wie said.
He wrote a business plan for a brewpub (which ultimately became Great Waters) to fill a gap in the market for restaurants with high quality beers.
At first, Muddy Pig stocked eight craft and local taps. But soon a virtuous cycle of sorts took hold, pushing the number of taps at Muddy Pig higher and higher.
In its nine years of existence, Muddy Pig has served more than 750 unique tap beers.
“We brought in different beers and people liked them. They drank more, so we brought in more beers, and the more we brought in the more people seemed to drink,” van Wie said.
The beer list at Pig & Fiddle is reminiscent of what Muddy Pig patrons have come to expect. Local brews are well represented with Fulton, Harriet, Lift Bridge, Summit and Surly on tap. Well-known national brands like Lagunitas, Stone and Bell’s round out the list.
“We go for breweries we like, which happen to offer some of the best beers, and we want to support the Minnesota scene as much as possible,” van Wie said.
Pig & Fiddle is primarily the result of a hard-to-resist opportunity arising at the right time, not the fruit of a carefully developed plan to expand into Minneapolis.
Van Wie and Schatz’s second bar project was The Happy Gnome, another popular St. Paul watering hole off Selby & Mackubin that opened about a half-decade ago. But a partnership dispute resulted in van Wie and Schatz ending their association with that establishment.
After leaving Happy Gnome, the partners kept their eyes and ears open for the right opportunity to expand. That opportunity came when the owner of the Muddy Pig building, John McCarty, bought Pearson’s and decided to split the restaurant into two separate businesses.
Catering to a breakfast and lunch crowd, 50th Street Café opened in one half of the building. McCarty then approached van Wie and Schatz to see if they’d be interested in opening a bar in the other half.
Van Wie, a former Fulton resident, believed that the neighborhood would embrace a bar and restaurant devoted to good beer and good food, and a year later, Pig & Fiddle is now open at 3812 W. 50th St.
Menu highlights include European-themed dishes like borscht ($5), alpine rabbit stew ($19), smoked jagerwurst rolls ($12), peasant chicken ($21) and sole solyanka ($22).
Van Wie and Schatz didn’t tinker too much with the formula that has proven so successful in St. Paul.
Van Wie said feedback has been positive since the opening. “Everyone wants a local place where they can hang out, have good beer, good food and good wine,” he said. “It’s human nature.”
Pig & Fiddle
3812 W. 50th St.