Weather Forecast


Italian restaurant coming to downtown Hastings

The new owner of the old Mississippi Belle building, Steve Sawitzke, is pictured with Bella vista owners Lisa Van Horn, left, and Jennifer Melecio. Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx

For years, 101 East Second Street has sat vacant. Most commonly known as the former Mississippi Belle, the building has been empty since 2010.

But this summer, the historic building will re-open with a new name, new owners and a whole new look. Business partners Jennifer Melecio and Lisa Van Horn plan to open a new Italian restaurant there named Bella Vista.

Melecio and Van Horn have a combined 45 years of restaurant experience. Van Horn has been in the business since before college, starting out as a server and working her way up into management. Although she took an office job for five years after graduating college, she never really left the restaurant world and eventually gave up the office work to follow her passion.

Melecio is more tuned to the culinary side of the business. She’s the wife of a cook and has a large family, so she’s cooking a lot at home, she said. She won’t be cooking at Bella Vista, but her husband will be. She had attended college for nursing but kept finding herself drawn back to restaurant work. She loves customer service and being able to make people happy, she said.

The two have been working together at another restaurant for the past three years but decided they were ready to start a venture of their own. Melecio, a Hastings resident, knew the space was available and saw it as a perfect opportunity. She and Van Horn, who lives in St. Paul, love the historical nature of downtown Hastings and saw a chance to bring new life to the old building while giving Hastings a new dining option that can’t already be had here.

“It was calling our name,” Van Horn said.

A friend of theirs, Steve Sawitzke, was able to buy the building at the end of December and arranged a lease agreement for Melecio and Van Horn. Since then, they’ve been hard at work demolishing pretty much everything inside.

“It’s down to the studs on a lot of it,” Van Horn said.

Some who used to work at the Mississippi Belle have told Melecio that the building used to be kept in pristine condition. But after years of neglect, the building has deteriorated. Carpeting, walls, furnishings and more all had to be taken out. Mold and mildew had claimed some of it, so all that’s been removed. The good news is that the bones of the building are still good.

“It’s a sturdy building, a lot can be done with it,” Melecio said.

Van Horn and Melecio have big plans. The front will have new big bay windows put in to match the rest of downtown and bring more light inside. New windows are planned for the west side of the building as well. The ceiling will be higher, and there will be a lounge area at the front of the restaurant complete with couches. They’re moving the bathroom and are planning a bar as well.

Bella Vista is hoping to take advantage of some extra sidewalk space in front of the building to put a couple tables for outdoor seating.

And then there’s the long-term plan, what Van Horn and Melecio are calling “phase two.” The addition on the back of the building isn’t historic, so they envision removing it and creating some rooftop seating. Whether they’re able to do that or not will depend on how well the business fares over the next couple years, though.

The restaurant itself will feature northern Italian food that can serve casual diners as well as those looking for a more formal experience. Fresh bread and pasta will be made right there in the restaurant. Melecio’s husband will be one of the cooks, her mother will make all the pastries and bread and Van Horn’s mother will be making fresh salads.

The restaurant will have a menu ready when it opens, but Melecio said input from their patrons will be welcomed.

“We want to cater to the community, because we want to be here for a long time,” she said.

Work is well under way on the building, and Melecio and Van Horn hope to see Bella Vista open in July. Their goal is to open before Rivertown Days, they said.