Al’s Breakfast joins ‘crowded’ Dinkytown late-night scene

The Dinkytown staple will offer an exclusive menu to its late-night clientele.

Three University of Minnesota students observe the special Al's Night Menu at its opening on Friday.

Jack Rodgers

Three University of Minnesota students observe the special Al’s Night Menu at its opening on Friday.

Kelly Busche

New Al’s Breakfast co-owner Alison Kirwin is taking the 67-year-old business in an unexpected direction.

Al’s Breakfast began offering weekend late-night hours — with an exclusive menu — for the first time Sept. 8. While students are excited for the opportunity to have breakfast at night, staffing the late-night hours has been a challenge.

The evening hours are offered every Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. The establishment’s hours previously only spanned from the early morning until 1 p.m. each day.

Al’s will continue serving items from its traditional menu during late night hours — but with a twist.

The most popular breakfast items will still be fried and grilled, and then rolled into “Al’s-urritos,” Kirwin said. 

Pancakes and waffles will also be on the menu, she said, as well as one non-breakfast item: hot dogs.

Kirwin, who became an owner of Al’s last fall, said she wanted to tap into Dinkytown’s late-night hours because more people frequent the area then.

“This is … my first opportunity to take charge of some things and experiment a little bit,” she said. “Why not take advantage of the mass amounts of people that are here in Dinkytown at other times of the day?”

Al’s employee Eric Green said burritos are a good choice for late-night takeout. 

“You can walk a few blocks with your burrito and it will still be warm when you get home,” he said. 

Former University of Minnesota student William Murphy first ate at the 14-seat establishment more than 20 years ago.

Murphy said he is excited for the new hours because he was never in the neighborhood when Al’s was open. 

“It’s lovely to be able to come down and grab a great breakfast at night,” he said. 

Randy Gast, president of the Dinkytown Business Alliance and owner of Qdoba Mexican Eats, said late-night restaurant activity in Dinkytown is driven by bars and parties.

“Late-night has always been an interesting economic phenomena,” he said. 

Party-goers have a lot of options for late-night food in Dinkytown, Gast said, adding that the neighborhood’s restaurant market is beginning to get “crowded.” 

But Al’s has “a good name, a good reputation” and a loyal customer base, he said. 

University junior Camila Vargas said she likes the new hours because it gives her the option to eat something besides pizza and cookies — common late-night food in Dinkytown.

Vargas, a customer of Al’s for two years, said the quality of the food keeps her coming back.

Green said some students who come to Dinkytown for parties are not aware that a “booming breakfast place” exists. The new hours may help attract those students to Al’s, Green said.  

Kelly Klehr, a junior at the University, said Friday night was only her second time at Al’s, but already prefers it because it’s a local establishment.

But Kirwin said the new hours have brought challenges. 

Staffing has been a hurdle, she said, because “most of my employees aren’t used to doing things late at night.”

Andrew Wilkins, another Al’s employee, said the restaurant is only staffed by three employees in the evening, compared to the usual five. 

Two employees cook and prep, he said, while one employee mans the counter lodged in the doorway of the small restaurant — a job that requires cashiering skills and a booming voice to lure curious passersby.

Kirwin said some customers were not supportive of the new hours because it was a change in tradition. 

Still, the day-to-day operation of Al’s will stay the same, she said. 

“I don’t think this will change the flavor of what we’re doing,” Kirwin said.