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A: For the first five years, I lived in the garage outside the restaurant, with an electric heater and no running water. I remember lying on the couch in my sleeping bag, in tears, and wondering what the heck I was doing. I was working harder than anyone I knew. I was married to my business, which meant that I couldn’t maintain a relationship with a girl to save my life. I loved when summer came because I could go down to the lake and bathe. But I was also living my dream. I was doing what I wanted to do and where I wanted to do it. I mean, I have the most beautiful freshwater puddle in the world in front of me. People are praising my work every day. That’s when I thought, “Why am I complaining? Shut up, and get to work.”
Q: One tidbit I enjoyed discovering in the book is that when you bought the Scenic Cafe — which started as a drive-in in the 1960s — it was your initial plan to change the name to the Pistachio Cafe. Really?
A: Oh jeez, is that still in there? [laughs] We had to edit out 92 pages. There’s so much in there that it’s hard to remember. But I’m in love with pistachios, I think it’s the best nut out there. They’re good for you, they’re sexy, they’re salty, they’re crunchy, and you can do so much with them. And it’s fun to say “pistachio,” especially if you’re Italian.
We wanted to find a way to differentiate from the Scenic Cafe. We played around with the name the Nut House [laughs]. When we bought the Scenic — it was on April 1, 1999 — it was on a contract-for-deed, and we couldn’t substantially change the name until we had paid for it. The owners wanted continuity in case they got it back. Now I’m glad that we didn’t change the name, I’m glad it’s the New Scenic Cafe. It continues the heritage. It validates the past.
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib
Where to buy
“New Scenic Cafe: The Cookbook,” ($50) a collaboration between Scott Graden, writer Arlene Anderson, editor Barb Olsen and chef and graphic designer Eric Sturtz, is available at the restaurant (5461 North Shore Dr., Duluth, www.newsceniccafe.com) and at Common Good Books in St. Paul, Kitchen Window in Minneapolis and Duluth Kitchen Co. and Blue Heron Trading Co. in Duluth.