Uptown pizza joint Dulono's nixes weekend bluegrass

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | Updated 3/20/2014

The Uptown pizzeria’s new owner wants to maximize weekend traffic, so music will move to off-nights.

The Middle Spunk Creek Boys with Alan Jesperson, right, were one of many Minnesotan bluegrass groups to play Dulono's on weekends.
Tom Sweeney

Oh, brother. The most popular topping at Dulono’s Pizza besides the spicy pepperoni, the weekend bluegrass shows at the Uptown Minneapolis institution have been unplugged.

The old-school pizzeria’s even older-school music — which dates back to the early 1970s and had an international reputation — will resume on Mondays and Tuesdays in the coming months but is on hold for now amid renovations.

The news went over like a busted banjo string among Twin Cities bluegrass lovers. One of the most dedicated, tradition-loving audiences, its skews toward middle-age and older fans who might be less prone to go out on weeknights.

“I’m sorry to hear of the ending of a very long epoch in Minneapolis music history,” one fan, Jay Peterson, posted on Facebook.

The new owner of Dulono’s, Jared Gruett, said he’s a fan of the music but was losing money on busy weekend nights to bluegrass fans who camped out at tables. He hopes to generate more customer turnover on those crucial nights.

“Bluegrass has too much history here to let it go away,” said Gruett, who bought Dulono’s in January from the family that opened it in 1957. “But we’re an Uptown business. We should be generating more traffic in and out on weekends than [the bluegrass gigs] allow.”

Gruett initially halted the weekend music last month when kitchen renovations started. He intended to bring it back, but was surprised to see how much the sales numbers improved.

“Our wait staff can’t have one table sit there for over two hours with only a $30 tab,” he said.

Dulono’s music booker Alan Jesperson, a veteran bluegrass player, initially criticized the decision, saying the weekend gigs “were the center of our bluegrass scene.”

Still, he’s confident the shows will succeed on weeknights. “If you build it, they will come, and there’s already a built-in audience here,” said Jesperson, whose group the Middle Spunk Creek Boys has been playing at Dulono’s since their former venue of choice, the Scholar in Dinkytown, shut down in 1978.

“Bluegrass is as popular as it’s ever been,” Jesperson added, disputing any interpretation that the Dulono’s decision might signal a waning audience for the music. “That’s why I think plenty of people will still come out to hear it on a Monday or Tuesday night.”