ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - The unassuming storefront along Rice Street that houses Mama's Pizza seems to be running, business as usual, despite a weeks-long cold snap that's kept most inside their homes.
But to those inside, nothing is the same without Mario Folkner spinning pies in the back kitchen.
The longtime employee was found dead early New Year's day, laying outside in overnight temperatures that reached 15 below zero. To his coworkers and friends, the loss will continue to sting all year long.
"He was kinda loud--in a good way," Mario's friend Billy Kinny said. "It's really weird... It's quiet here without him."
Folkner was just one of several deaths due to exposure over the last few weeks, as bitter cold gripped much of the upper Midwest. Twin Cities hospitals report a huge uptick in frostbite cases over that period--including 26 cases at Hennepin County Medical Center and 25 at Regions hospital.
As friends and family grieve Folkner's loss, they're hoping his death will serve as a warning for everyone to stay warm and recognize the signs of frostbite.
"It was devestating, Kinny said. "It could have happened to anyone."
Doctors say the first sign of frostbite is numbness, worsening as ice crystals form inside tissue until you can no longer feel how cold it is outside. Medical professionals are especially worried about frostbite as crowds that may not be familiar with Minnesota weather begin to arrive for the Super Bowl.
And despite rising temperatures over the next few days, experts say the risk is not over quite yet.
"Be prepared and have the appropriate clothing," Dr. William Mohr of Regions Hospital said. "And remember that alcohol will make you feel warmer, but you're actually losing temperature faster."