Dollars & Sense columnist John Ewoldt searches the Twin Cities and beyond for bargains and strategies to spare you time, money and hassles.
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Posts about Food and drink

Updated: 20-40% savings on gift cards at 60+ restaurants

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: December 8, 2011 - 10:27 AM


The bonuses that restaurants give you when you spend $25 or $100 are a good way to save 20 to 40 percent on future visits. And they can also make good gifts,especially if the bonus is a separate gift card instead of an extra amount added. Note: most restaurants let you buy in any increments to reach the bonus threshold. For example, you can buy four $25 gift cards to get the $20 bonus instead of a single $100 card.

To get the deals, you have to purchase gift cards before the end of the year (or earlier as noted). Most of the bonus cards cannot be used until next year. Bonus cards are subject to more restrictions than gift cards, so check

carefully for expiration dates or other "gotchas." Many bonus cards cannot be used until January. 


Here are some of the restaurants and grocery stores offering bonus cards with a gift card purchase. Thank you Carrie Rocha of Pocket Your Dollars for sending some new ones not previously listed. Please add any others we've missed.

Al Vento (Mpls., 612-374-3009): Get a $25 bonus card when you spend $100. Savings: 25 percent. 

Applebees (37 metro locations): Get $10 bonus for each $50 spent. The bonus offer is available in restaurants only, not online. Savings: 20 percent.

Benihana (Golden Valley, Maple Grove): Get a $10 bonus card after spending $50 in gift cards. Savings: 20 percent.

Biaggi's (Eden Prairie, Maple Grove): Get a $15 bonus card after spending $100 in gift cards. Savings: 15 percent.

Biella (Excelsior, 952-474-8881): Get a $20 bonus for a $50 gift card, a $30 bonus for $75 and a $40 bonus for $100 spent. Savings: 40 percent.

Big Bowl, Tucci Benucch, Twin City Grill. Wildfire (various locations): Get a $25 bonus certificate after spending $100 in gift cards from these Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. Savings: 25 percent.

Blue Plate restaurants (Edina Grill, Highland Grill, Groveland Tap, Longfellow Grill, Scusi and 3 Squares). Spend $100 in gift cards, get $100 in bonus deals. The $100 bonus comes in the form of a booklet with a coupon for each month of 2012, ranging from $5 to $15 that can be used at any of the six restaurants. Order in the restaurants or online.

Boston Market: (three locations): Get a coupon for $5 off with a $25 gift card. The $5 card expires at the end of January 2012. Savings: 20 percent.

Broadway Pizza (17 locations): Get a $10 gift voucher after spending $50 in gift cards. Voucher is good from 1/1/2012 to 2/29/2012. Thanks for the tip Brandons. Savings: 20 percent.

California Pizza Kitchen (Edina, Maple Grove): Get a $20 bonus card when purchasing $100 in gift cards. Savings: 20 percent.

Chipotle: (47 locations) Buy $30 in gift cards and get a receipt for a free burrito ($6.92 or $7.37 value, depending on flavor chosen) at a future visit. Savings: about 23 percent.

Cosi (Mpls., 612-332-5700) Get a $10 bonus card after spending $50 in gift cards. Savings: 20 percent.

Crave: (4 locations). get $60 in bonus cards ($20 to Crave, two $10 cards to Urban Eatery, and two $10 cards to Sopranos in West End) after spending $100 in gift cards. Savings: 60 percent but note that the $60 must be split among several restaurants. 

Davanni's (21 locations): Get a $5 gift card after spending $25 in gift cards. Savings: 20 percent.

Famous Dave's (17 locations): Get a $5 bonus card after buying a $25 gift card. Savings: 20 percent.

Green Mill (14 locations). Get a $20 bonus card after buying a $100 gift card. Savings: 20 percent.

 Heidi's (Mpls., 612-354-3512). Spend $80 on a  gift card online or in the restaurant and get $100 in value. Go to "Stewpon" in the lower right corner. Savings: 25 percent.

Joe's Crab Shack (Roseville, 651-636-4151 ). Spend $25 in gift cards and get a $5 card or other freebie. Savings: 20 percent.

Kincaid’s (St. Paul and Bloomington): Get a $20 bonus for each $100 spent. Free shipping for online orders. Savings: 20 percent.

Kowalski's (nine locations). Spend $100 in gift cards and get a $10 card. Savings: 10 percent.

LeeAnn Chin (40+ locations) Get a $5 bonus gift card with $25 gift card purchase, or get a $10 bonus gift card with a $40 card purchase. Savings: 20-25 percent.

Lindey's Prime Steakhouse (Arden Hills, 651-633-9813): Get $20 free after purchasing a $100 gift card. Savings: 20 percent.

Little Caesar's Pizza (14 locations): Get a $5 bonus card when spending $25 in gift cards. Savings: 20 percent.

McCormick and Schmick (Edina, Minneapolis, 1-877-622-6780) Get a $10 bonus for a $50 purchase or $25 for a $100 purchase. Online and phone orders include $3 shipping. Savings: 20-25 percent minus any shipping cost.

Modern Cafe (Mpls., 612-378-9882): Get a $25 gift card for $15. Savings: 40 percent.

Outback Steakhouse (7 locations): Get a $20 bonus card when you spend $100 on gift cards. Savings: 20 percent.

Parasole (Burger Jones, Chino Latino, Good Earth, Il Gatto, Manny's, Mozza Mia, Muffuletta, Pittsburgh Blue, Prohibition and the Living Room at the W Hotel, and Salut): Spend $100 in gift cards and get a $25 card. The cards can be redeemed at any of the restaurants. Order at 1-866-541-4438 or online. Savings: 25 percent.

Pizza Luce (5 locations): Get a $25 bonus card after spending $100 in gift cards. Savings: 25 percent.

Punch Pizza (seven locations): Get a coupon for a free margherita or Napoli pizza worth about $6 after buying a $25 gift card. Cards can be purchased by phone or in person. Savings: 25 percent at lunch or 35 percent at dinner when the same margherita pizza is about $9.

Rinata Italian Restaurant (Mpls., 612-374-8998). Spend $50 and get a $20 bonus card. If you're not familiar with Rinata in Uptown, it has an excellent $20 4-course meal on Sunday evenings. Savings: 40 percent.

Roman Anthony's in White Bear Lake. Get a $50 gift card for $30, a $75 gift card for $45 and a $100 gift card for $60. Savings: 40 percent. 

 Romano's Macaroni Grill (Edina, Minnetonka, Roseville): Get a $5 bonus card after spending $25 in gift cards. Savings: 20 percent.

Ruth’s Chris(Mpls., 612-672-9000): Get 10 percent gift card credit after $250 spent. Savings: 10 percent.

St. Paul Grill, St. Paul Hotel, Pazzaluna, Tria, Enjoy! and Paradise Landing: The $100 bonus is a package with five nontransferable $20 cards good at each of the following: St. Paul Hotel, Pazzaluna, Tria, Enjoy! and Paradise Landing in Balsam Lake, Wis. Gift cards can be ordered at the locations, at  and by calling 651-221-0815. Bonus cards must be used by March 31.

Smashburger (8 locations): Get a $5 bonus card after spending $25 in gift cards. Savings: 20 percent.

Spill the Wine (Mpls.): Spend $100 in gift cards and get a $25 bonus card. Savings: 25 percent.

TCOriginals website: A few restaurants still have 30 percent savings on $25 or $50 gift cards, including Afton House Inn, Cork's Irish Pub in St. Paul, the Current in Afton, David Fong's in Bloomington and McCoy's in St. Louis Park. 

St. Clair Broiler and  Rudolph's: Spend $100 in gift cards and get a $25 card and use the bonus at either. Buy the cards at the restaurants or online.

Seven Steakhouse and Sushi (612-238-7770): Spend $100 in gift cards and get a $25 card. Savings: 25 percent.

What did I miss? Add your favorites.

Groupon Now offers fantastic restaurant savings today only

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: November 21, 2011 - 8:34 AM


Groupon Now, the daily deal site with deals that have to be redeemed that day, offers great savings today. Pay only $1 for $5 to $20 worth of food, but buy now because only a limited number of offers are availavle at each restaurant. Of the 20 participating restaurants, only one (Nong's Thai) was sold out at 9:15.



St. Paul Bagelry is offering 12 bagels for $1

St. Paul Bagelry is offering 12 bagels for $1

St. Paul Bagelry is offering 12 bagels for $1

St. Paul Bagelry is offering 12 bagels for $1

Hours for the offer vary at each restaurant, but most expire before 3 p.m. today. A few last until 7 or 8 p.m. today.


In praise of Aldi and its 25th Twin Cities store

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: November 17, 2011 - 4:06 PM



Aldi opened its 25th Twin Cities store in Columbia Heights today at 5025 Central Avenue. I've been a fan of Aldi supermarkets ever since the German company opened its first store here in 2003, but I suspect that a lot of metro residents have never been in one or visited one never to return.


That seems odd to me in these days where consumers shop low and high--Target and Kowalski's, for example. And I know many people who shop Cub/Rainbow and Byerly's. But I'm surprised at the number of people who don't like Aldi and say they won't go back. 


I agree there are some problems: the stupid quarter deposit for a shopping cart for example. I solve that by never buying enough to need a cart. I bring my own reusable bags so I won't have to buy grocery bags for a dime. Others say the checkout lines are too long. Ya got me there. With minimal staffing, the lines ARE long, but Aldi's cashiers could win any speed contest. Others are probably put off by the lack of brand names, but private label brands are selling better than ever and Aldi's quality is high.


So let me be Aldi's champion for a moment and suggest what the holdouts are missing.

1. Savings of 20 to 40 percent compared to Cub and Rainbow. Even more savings compared to other stores such as Festival, Lunds and Kowalski's. 

2. A double guarantee in which a customer can get a replacement and a refund if he or she is dissatisfied. A receipt is always best, but I have successfully returned items w/o a receipt that were clearly from Aldi (its own private label).

3. A smaller, more manageable store size. The layouts are similar at every Aldi and most items are easy to find.

4. A coupon haters' paradise. Aldi doesn't accept coupons, but since the prices are so low, it's no big loss. Only serious couponers can probably spend less at Cub or Rainbow by using coupons and buying on sale.

5. Easy labeling for the health and quality conscious. Those looking for healthier options should look for the Fit & Active line. Those looking for a step up in quality can try the premium line called Grandessa.

No place is perfect. I became disappointed in Aldi's produce and regret the complete lack of anything organic. When I want low prices on organic items, I go to the other store owned by the same German-based company...Trader Joe's. If you're still complaining about the cash-only option, go again. Debit cards are now accepted.

Aldi, love it? hate it? Sprechen mit mir!


Turkey prices to beat? $0.49/lb (conventional); $2.89/lb. local organic

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: November 14, 2011 - 4:23 PM


In November 2008, Cub and Wal-Mart were in a price war, offering frozen turkeys for 38 and 40 cents per pound respectively.


This year Cub is once again the low price leader so far. In Sunday's ad in the newspaper, Cub has a coupon for a Honeysuckle white frozen turkey at 48 cents per pound. A $25 purchase is required. (A Butterball premium frozen turkey for 99 cents per pound also requires a coupon and a $25 purchase). You can get extra coupons at the service desk.

Wal-Mart is currently charging 74 cents per pound for a Riverside turkey, 98 cents per pound for Honeysuckle and $1.18 per pound for Butterball (all frozen). Wal-Mart will not match Cub's lower price because a coupon and minimum purcahse is required.

Rainbow also requires a $25 purchase and a coupon , but its Jennie-O turkey is 58 cents per pound.  

Those are among the cheapest prices so far. If you're waiting for someone to match the 39 cents per pound price in 2008, you're wasting your time, in my opinion. Wholesale prices are up three to seven cents per pound this year to $1.07 and $1.11, according to ag economist Corinne Alexander at Purdue University. That means that Cub, Rainbow and Wal-Mart are offering their turkeys as a loss leader to make you buy other items. Nothing wrong with that.

But what some people do object to is the less-than-humane way of raising turkeys. Most people who shop price alone probably don't want to know how the bird is raised or its quality of life.

If it does matter to you, you'll pay more. A middle-of-the-road choice is Ferndale free range turkeys from Cannon Falls, featured on WCCO TV yesterday. They're not certified organic, but they have plenty of room to roam with no added processing such as water or butter, according to turkey grower Dick Peterson.  They can be purchased for $1.99 per pound at Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville and about $2.29 per pound at most other retailers that sell Ferndale.

Turkey lovers who want certified organic and local will probably be eating a bird from the farm of Larry Schultz near Owatonna. They're about $3.29 a pound at most co-ops and premium supermarkets but Valley Natural Foods Co-op in Burnsville again sells for less at $2.89 per pound for Schultz' frozen organic turkeys.

Costco has the lowest price on certified organic turkeys at $2.69 per pound, but they are not locally raised.  I didn't check this year's supply yet, but last year's were raised in Washington state. Sam's Club does not offer organic turkeys.

For those of us given to complaining about the high price of food, this is a gentle reminder that the Thanksgiving meal is one of the cheapest. Few of us pause to think that a turkey at 50 cents a pound is a loss-leading steal. But even if you're paying $3 a pound for a free range organic turkey, no farmer's getting rich at that price.

Feeding 12 people an entree for $42 (14 pound organic turkey at $3 a pound) is still an amazing deal. That's $3.50 per person for the turkey.

If you find turkey for less than what I've listed here, share away. Just know what you're paying for. If it's a local farmer, you have a better chance of knowing exactly how the bird was raised, what it was fed and how it was harvested. As residents in the largest turkey producing state in the country, we don't have to go far to buy a locally raised Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Thanksgiving.



Shakopee's the place to be today for bargains on bows to soup.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: November 9, 2011 - 8:56 AM

Small businesses in Shakopee have the right idea. Pull together around a common event: the Canterbury Park Autumn Festival Arts & Crafts Fair, held through Sunday. Four businesses will be holding warehouse/liquidation sales with big savings on gourmet soups, coffee, gift wrapping supplies and candles. (see map below)

The soup ladies sale, with dried soup, beverage and dessert mixes continues through Sunday at 1157 Valley Park Dr. S. (952-496-2887). The event is popular for its free tastings of many items. All of the items are produced locally. Cash is accepted, but not credit cards.

Gage & Gage’s sale through Sunday includes wrapping paper, boxes and bows, gift basket making supplies, wine packaging, Italian bakery boxes for pies, as well as paper plates, cups and napkins,  (660 Industrial Circle, 952-233-2081).

With the high price of coffee today, we have to wait for a sale. Here's a good one: Cameron’s Coffee (5700 12th Av. E., 952-374-5000)  includes some regular ground and whole bean and organic and Rainforest Alliance-certified coffees and flavored syrups through Saturday. Today's sale hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dianne’s Candles sale at America’s Best Value Inn (1244 Canterbury Rd., 952-746-5530) includes locally made, highly-fragranced candles in a variety of sizes, reed diffusers, as well as gourmet cheesecakes. Mention “Star Tribune” for 50 percent off one item. Today's hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The sale also runs Nov. 16-20.




TC Originals offers 30 percent off $25, $50 or $100 gift cards at 20 local restaurants. A few of the restaurants are on too, but most are indies that rarely offer other discounts. Some of the restaurants include Biella in  Excelsior, David Fong's in Bloomington, Eden Ave. Grill in Edina, Lake Elmo Inn, Luci Ancora in St. Paul, Murray's in downtown Minneapolis, Scusi in St. Paul and Spill the WIne in Minneapolis. Log on to the site at 10 a.m. sharp when the batch of certs is released. Luci Ancora and Rudolph's always sell out quickly. Some of the restaurants only sell 10 certificates per dollar amount.





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