The Chef Shack has found a permanent Minneapolis home.
After a three-year real estate odyssey, co-owners Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer (pictured, above) are taking their popular and influential food truck business into full-service restaurant territory. They’ve leased the former Raja’s Mahal (3025 E. Franklin Av., Mpls.) and are in the process of converting it into Chef Shack Ranch.
“We’re calling it a ‘modern urban truck stop,’” said Summer.
Because they’ve landed in the Seward neighborhood, one of the city’s unofficial vegetarian enclaves — it’s the home of the Seward Cafe, Seward Co-op and Birchwood Cafe — Carlson and Summer plan to make a statement by taking their menu in the opposite direction: pulled pork with hand-cut fries, pork brisket, beef cheeks, beef tongue, a bison burger, meat loaf with mashed potatoes, roast chicken, biscuits and gravy and more. “It’s going to be a meat hut,” said Summer.
As for dessert, “We’re going to be making mini-doughnuts all the time, baby,” she said with a laugh, a reference to a Chef Shack menu staple. “And we’ll be making pies and ice cream and all those favorites that you can get in a good truck stop.”
A fixed-location Chef Shack doesn’t mean that the trucks are disappearing. The opposite, actually. The Chef Shack Ranch’s surprisingly ample kitchen will also serve as the fleet’s commissary kitchen, replacing the facility that Carlson and Summer had been leasing in south Minneapolis.
“We have to change with the times, and keeping showing a new face,” said Summer. “That keeps us fresh, and it keeps our customers engaged. They want new food, and we want to do new food, so it works.”
The new restaurant is coming along just as the outdoor truck season is winding down. Chef Shack trucks made their final regular-season appearances at Minneapolis farmers markets this past weekend — at Mill City Farmers Market and Fulton Farmers Market on Saturday, and Kingfield Farmers Market on Sunday. The trucks are now moving into private event mode, and gearing up for occasional winter farmers market gigs (the first cold-weather Kingfield-Fulton collaboration is Nov. 10 at Bachman’s in south Minneapolis).
“My crew has their Carhartts ready,” said Summer with a laugh.
One change is coming next spring to the truck side of the Chef Shack business: Expect to see fewer sightings in downtown Minneapolis.
“There are just so many trucks down there, competing for limited parking spaces, which is why we’ve been avoiding it as much as we can,” said Summer. “We’ve been down there maybe once a week.”
The duo is also continuing their first bricks-and-mortar effort, the year-old, weekend-only Chef Shack Bay City, located a few miles south of Red Wing., Minn., on the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin.
Meanwhile, the 40-seat Minneapolis restaurant — familiar to anyone (pictured, above) who remembers Moti Mahal, Lucy’s Ethiopian Restaurant, an off-campus outpost of the Big 10 and a parade of other tenants — is getting a quick low-budget makeover, with walls covered in repurposed barn wood and salvaged tin ceiling material. A tree-lined patio and a walk-up takeout window should materialize next spring.
“I want a rustic, down-home feel,” said Summer. “Something approachable, because that’s what we do, approachable.”
Right now the plan is to initially start with a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule, focusing on dinner and Sunday brunch. An opening date hasn’t been pinned down.
“Right now we’re looking at December, possibly, although we might hold off until January,” said Summer. “We’re really busy in Bay City, so we’re not in a rush to open, we’re just quietly plugging away and working on it. We’ve waited a long time to open in our home city, and we’re super-excited.”
Last week Stewart and Heidi Woodman announced they were closing their six-year-old restaurant Heidi's at the end of December. But last night's sign on their door indicated a change of plans.
Today, via a press release, they announced that the restaurant was closed immediately and gave the reason: the end of their marriage.
The press release:
After 12 years of marriage, Heidi and Stewart Woodman have mutually come to the decision to divorce. With this news, they announce today that Heidi's Minneapolis, the restaurant they created and co-owned for six years, has closed its doors.
In a statement from the Woodmans: “We kindly ask that our privacy be respected. While we’ve made the decision to end our marriage, we share the same love and commitment to our two children. Our focus is on them at this time."
Last night a flurry of tweets indicated that something was amiss given the sign that was posted on their door (see photo above), which hungry participants in Restaurant Week had stumbled upon.
A little history: Heidi's Minneapolis was an instant hit when it opened in 2007 at 50th Street and Bryant Av. in Minneapolis. After its building was destroyed by fire in 2010, the Woodmans moved the restaurant to 2903 Lyndale Av.S., where it earned a four-star review from Star Tribune critic Rick Nelson.
The culinary couple -- she's an accomplished pastry chef -- landed in Minneapolis, Heidi's hometown, in 2003, where Stewart became the first chef at Levain, which earned a four-star review under Stewart's cooking.
The husband-wife team went on to open Five Restaurant & Street Lounge, an ambitious but short-lived effort. Their next venture together was Heidi's. They had also opened Birdhouse on Hennepin Av. S., which closed over the summer.
Ready for a road trip? Public television is.
"Farm Fresh Road" -- a 30-minute show about Minnesota foods from farm to table -- premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, on TPT's Minnesota channel.
The program features Mary Lahammer of Twin Cities Public Television as she wanders the state in a progressive meal kind of trip looking for food experiences that are the equivalent of "courses" -- an appetizer in Minneapolis through dessert in St.Peter.
Not free on Sunday? Be assured the show will reappear many times in the scheduling at TPT.
I've been pretty lucky in my eating and cooking experiences. Through our sustainable food-focused web series, we've gotten to travel the U.S. and the world meeting incredible people, tasting street food and Michelin dining alike. It's a dream job, but still, this weekend was special.
For those unfamiliar, MAD means "food" in Danish and for the last three years, Rene Redzepi and his team at the formerly heralded "best restaurant in the world" (recently placed as the second best) have been putting on THE culinary conference. It's a "for cooks, by cooks" event, so no demos, no big sponsors, no paying hand and foot for bite sized portions from different restaurants. You come to MAD to learn... and to eat.
We came to do just that -- and also to speak at the event and show some of our films -- which we were super honored and amazed to be a part of. But let's start with the eating, because that's what most of my photos (all on the iPhone) entail.
An hour from the time we landed in Denmark, we were sitting at a table at Noma. I'm not going to rub it in, but the restaurant deserves all the acclaim it gets and then some -- not only for the food, but also for service that is unparalleled. The staff is like a cult (a good one) that wants you to be a member, and you happily drink the Kool-Aid, or as is the case at Noma, the wild sorrel-aid.
After 24 courses and a good night's sleep, we woke up Friday morning, and (along with the 30+ other individuals speaking at the event) we were whisked off to the small Danish Island of Bornholm for a day of bonding on the beach. It didn't hurt that the organizers had set up a room full of wild produce, as well as a pig and a lamb for some of the best chefs in the world to cook up for dinner. Imagine Alex Atala, David Kinch, David Chang, Pascal Barbot and the Franks from Frankies (all speakers at the event) cooking you a BBQ overlooking the Baltic sea, with flowing natural wine. I know, I'm bragging again.
The next morning the conference began, but not before Copenhagen's best coffee roasters treated the crowd to the fanciest coffee you've seen. Pour over, cold press, machiatto, the choice was yours. Caffeinated to the max, we entered the circus tent where over the next two days we were to experience an amazing array of talks.
But first, there hung a dead pig, right in the middle of the tent for all to see. Blood ran from its neck. As the crowd came in, snapping their instagrams and imagining what would come next, we took our seats, Mirra shielding her vegetarian eyes. Then ACDC blared and in came Dario Cecchini -- Tuscan butcher extraordinaire. The crowd cheered. I felt sick. Maybe it's Mirra's animal loving spirit that overcame me, but the splitting open of this recently alive animal to the sound of cheers and rock and roll seemed a bit disrespectful. But the music stopped, the guts had been spilled, and Dario began to speak.
From that moment, he won us over, he jumped into his love of animals, the respect he has, the need to honor a slaughtered beast. It was dramatic, it was romantic and as he cut open the pig, he waxed poetic about being a butcher. "We are losing our race..." he declared. He was preaching the butcher gospel, and he ended with a minute long recitation of Dante. A stunning way to start the event that made me twice as nervous for my impending talk.
I can't go into all of the speakers like that, as there were too many, and they were all so good. Really, as far as conferences go, my expectations are usually pretty low. But here they had speakers like nowhere else. To run through a few:
Vandana Shiva: The anti-Gmo anti-pesticide activist from India who we covered in a recent video. She shared her story and challenged the world's best chefs to adopt GMO free menus.
Ahmed Jama: A Somali chef and refugee in London, who moved back to Mogadishu to open a restaurant in support of rebuilding his country. The restaurant has been bombed twice, killing 6 of his staff. He is currently rebuilding again.
Martha Payne: An 11- year old from Scotland who became famous for her blog that posted pictures of her school lunch to the shame of the school board. As a result of her blog, she's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children's school lunches in Malawi.
Sandor Katz: The author of "The Art of Fermentation" has given sauerkraut inspiration to thousands and made us rethink our relationship to bacteria.
These were just a few of the dozens of speakers that shared their take on "guts." In between the speakers there was food by a group of Lebanese women, who were Christians, Jews and Arabs. This trip to Denmark was the first time any of them had been out of their native country. Besides their peaceful coexistence philosophy, they made delicious baba ganoush, flatbread with zatar and lambs testicles.
The next day Mission Chinese from San Francisco and New York City burned everyone's mouths with their MaPo Tofu and Cumin Lamb. The Szechuan peppercorns and endless chiles gave pleasure and pain to the northern European clientele.
The first night consisted of a secret after-party complete with a pop-up dinner on the street from David Chang and the rest of the Momofuku team who made their famous bo-ssam. We spent the following two days trying out some new and acclaimed restaurants (Amass and Bror) headed by recent alums of Noma (Matt Orlando and Samuel Nutter/Victor Wagman, respectively), and stopped by our old favorites Relae and Manfreds (also by a Noma alum, Christian Puglisi), and our favorite wine bar, Ved Stranden.
We were reminded, time and time again, of the kindness, generosity and community created by Noma and the people from whence it came. They made us feel a part of the family. I applaud team Noma and team MAD for such an incredible and mind bending event. I hope to go again next year.
For a group of chefs who are sort-of without a restaurant at the moment, the crew at Travail Kitchen and Amusements sure manages to keep busy.
First things first: On Saturday, co-owners Bob Gerken, Mike Brown and James Winberg (pictured, above, left to right, in a Star Tribune file photo) “are going to throw this little street dance thing” said Brown.
It's taking place in the parking lot at Pig Ate My Pizza, the don’t-miss Robbinsdale pizzeria that the trio launched in May in the former Travail space; a newer, larger Travail is under construction a few doors down the block, a subject we’ll get to in a moment.
“We’re hoping to get a few hundred people,” said Brown. The plan is to lure them by “making everything super-cheap, and family-friendly,” he said.
It’s going to be a two-buck kind of party: The necessary wrist band (to satisfy the alcohol police) will cost $2, and most of the food (“Travail dogs,” sweet corn, a barbecued pulled pork sandwich and yuzu, watermelon and vanilla Dippin’ Dots-style ice cream) will also clock in at $2, with beer in the $4 to $6 range. Entertainment will be karaoke, backed up with a live three-piece band equipped with a 200-strong song set, with the festivities scheduled to run from 2 to 8 p.m.
The Travailians aren’t just throwing a street dance for the heck of it, although that actually sounds like something they’d do. Instead, they’re using the event as an informal kickoff (if this were a political primary, it would probably be called it a “listening tour”) for a $120,000 crowdfunding campaign that they plan to formally launch on Sept. 3.
No, they won’t be taking money on Saturday, but they will be collecting names of interested parties, and the first 200 names walk away with a free T-shirt (pictured, below).
The crowdfunding campaign is aimed at filling a funding gap between the financing that has been secured for Travail 2.0 and the cost for building out the space of their dreams.
“It’s going to determine whether or not Travail is going to be what we want it to be,” said Brown. “We just want it to be the best that it can possibly be.”
The ownership team has decided to steer clear of entering into partnerships, silent or otherwise. “We feel that there are probably investors out there, but that’s not what we do,” said Brown. “We can’t have outside influences.”
Instead, crowdfunding. They’re offering some fairly unorthodox incentives for those who might want to toss some cash into the pile. For those considering contributing a modest amount, the crew is producing what is destined to become a talker. Brown labels it the “sexy Travail calendar,” a takeoff on the muscle-bound St. Paul Firefighters calendar, only with chefs, including a few cameos culled from local A-list kitchens (their identities shall, for the moment, remain nameless).
For those pondering a heftier participation – we’re talking in the thousands here -- benefits could include private parties or the ability to secure unlimited reservations for a year at a wildly popular restaurant that doesn’t accept reservations.
Not to bury the lede – come on, there’s a lot of ground to cover here – but another dough-raising effort involves the launch of a pop-up restaurant, one with a little staying power. Over the summer, the Travailians been offering one-time events on idle nights in kitchens across the Twin Cities, but this enterprise is more ambitious.
The hope is to open on Sept. 11 and keep cooking through mid-October, if not into early November; the schedule will depend upon the progress at the Travail construction site, since the project’s tight budget relies upon a number of time-consuming do-it-yourself elements.
The location? Minneapolis’ restaurant-starved north side, inside a recently rehabbed chain outlet near Broadway Av. and Dupont. Av. N. The 45-seat operation will focus on Asian street food, “which really is the best food, ever,” said Brown.
No name yet. “I feel weird giving something an Asian name, because I’m not Asian,” said Brown with a laugh. “Anyway, it’s only going to be around for two months, so what the hell does it matter what we call it?”
They’d better decide quickly, if the doors are going to open in three weeks. Rather than accepting reservations, the trio plans to sell tickets to seatings, via an online ticket service.
“But we also want to connect with the neighborhood, so if someone wants to come in for takeout, we’ll do takeout,” said Brown. “I just hope to god that it all works out, because we have a lot of great people shining light on it.”
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