Updated: July 4
Co-Owner of Morrissey Hospitality, Elizabeth Morrissey Brown, has a formal education in hospitality and finance, but it also helps that she was schooled by one of the greats, her late father Bill Morrissey.
“I was raised by a strong-willed, smart man,” she says of her father, and then quickly adds, “and woman.” Her mother, Mary Jo, was a stay-at-home mom, she clarifies, but her father included her in the major business decisions when he started his own consulting company. It was her
mother, she said, that convinced her father to quit his job as general manager of the Saint Paul Hotel because his crazy hours were diluting his time with their three young children. And family, the couple had decided early on, was a core value in their marriage.
Starting his own company, which manages hotel and restaurant properties, also kept him from having to constantly move the family while climbing the ladder at a major hospitality company, plus it suited his entrepreneurial bent, as well as his big personality.
Perhaps it’s a disservice to Brown to start the article with her father, since she has always striven to be known as her own person, not Bill Morrissey’s daughter. She had a number of jobs in the hospitality industry both in the Twin Cities and New York City prior to joining Morrissey Companies, so she’s the real deal, not a legacy.
As vice president of business development and marketing, Brown is the second-generation representative who handles the day-to-day operations, along with President Richard Dobransky. But her older brothers, Arthur and Chris, are also active in company decisions as board members. “Chris is the black-and-white finance guy and Arthur is marketing,” she said. “We compliment each other, although I don’t think my parents crafted it that way.”
The last couple of years have been spent taking care of their people amid falling revenues and their clients’ bottom line. They closed one of their signature properties, Pazzaluna, in downtown St. Paul and have reopened it as Momento, which includes a restaurant and bar in half the original space. For the remaining space they’re in talks with another entity to do a lunch-centric concept as downtown workers slowly return, and are hoping to add a QSR/bakery/market on the Fifth Street side.
“Pazzaluna closing was hard,” Brown said. “We were the operators before owners.” The concept, however, was showing its age, and with the rising cost of operating and the size of the space, it was becoming cumbersome. “We knew we needed to change, and then 2020 happened…and we knew we had to stop the bleeding.”
Fans of Pazzaluna, which is right across the street from The Saint Paul Hotel, will be happy to know it isn’t totally gone. Brown said they’re looking at bringing it back in a suburban location.
Morrissey, as a company, not only made it through the pandemic with its management portfolio still in place, it added six new restaurant clients, tripling the company’s size. The additional restaurants are Admiral D’s Waterfront Tavern in White Bear Lake; Freight House in Stillwater; New Bohemia locations in St. Paul and Plymouth: Seventh Street Truck Park in St. Paul; plus the recently opened Momento in the former Pazzaluna space. It also closed the Bad Waitress location in Northeast Minneapolis, which had been transformed into NE Central for a short time. Morrissey Hospitality specialize in managing independents, not franchises, Brown pointed out.
A change in strategy from when the company first began is they now “have skin in the game,” Brown said. Restaurants, for instance, have extremely thin margins, she said, and hiring a management company affects the bottom line. So by investing some of their own money in the restaurant or hotel, it’s a clear answer to clients’ frequent question: “What are you going to do to prove you’re going to act like an owner?”
Every client is different, so their strategy isn’t always to invest. Services includes on-site management of daily operations, strategic planning and management of marketing plans, bookkeeping, menu development and procurement, recruiting and on-boarding support and improvements to existing technology.
The company is now working with 12 restaurants, three hotels and four venues, with an eye toward further growth. They already have plans in the works to add another hotel to their portfolio, alongside their stalwarts, The Saint Paul Hotel and St. Paul Grill.
Brown said she finally feels like they are getting back to where they were prepandemic—”Back to what we love to do” is how she phrased it.
Some day there may be a third generation who joins the business not wanting to be known as Elizabeth Morrissey Brown’s son or daughter (or niece or nephew), but rather for their hard work and good fortune to have the right hospitality genes.