It’s another farmers market success story: Arie Peisert, chef/owner of Northern Fires Pizza, a familiar stand to Mill City Farmers Market shoppers, is matriculating his pizza-oven-on-a-trailer into a permanent brick-and-mortar location on E. Lake Street in Minneapolis.
Peisert is following in the footsteps of other food entrepreneurs who have used farmers markets as a platform to launch year-round businesses, including Sun Street Breads, Bogart’s Doughnut Co., Foxy Falafel, Red Wagon Pizza Co., Big River Pizza and Gorkha Palace.
The search for a building began several years ago, a reflection of Peisert’s interest in the real estate side of the restaurant business.
“Margins are slim in the food industry,” he said. “I work hard, and I think I deserve more. A lot of us in the food industry — cooks, purveyors — we’re getting the short end of the stick. Focusing on real estate will allow me to widen the margins, and allow me to create good jobs, and a healthy work environment.”
When Dragon City Cafe (4301 E. Lake St., Mpls., below) decided earlier this year to close, Peisert jumped at the opportunity to buy the restaurant's modest two-story structure. It was home to Donna Fong's chow mein shop for nearly 40 years.
Peisert is aiming at opening in February or March, starting with dinner and eventually adding lunch. The menu will be straightforward: eight pizzas, a half-dozen small plates and a few salads, with a beer and wine license.
“The direction I want to go with the food is going to be really simple,” he said. ‘I’m going to put most of our efforts into sourcing seasonal, local ingredients. I want to teach cooks to be intuitive, and not recipe-based. A lot of cooks are getting bogged down, repetitively cooking the same thing. You’re treated as a robot. I want to focus on teaching people to cook intuitively, to be more mindful and aware of everything that’s going on around them.”
Construction will begin shortly. The dining room, which will hover at around 35 seats, is getting a top-to-bottom remake, and a patio will emerge next spring. A small expansion will house the all-important wood-burning oven. Peisert is keeping the kitchen’s woks.
“The previous owners want to come back and show me how to work them,” said Peisert (pictured below, photo by Orrin Dabney).
The building’s second floor contains a pair of apartments. One will become Peisert’s new home.
“I’m excited about shortening my commute,” he said with a laugh.
“I started at the bottom,” said Peisert. “It was the right place, at the right time, learning woodfired cuisines from the right people, and how to create simple, beautiful, delicious food.”
After a two-year stint at the Bachelor Farmer, Peisert started Northern Fires Pizza, quickly expanding to the Kingfield Farmers Market and Nokomis Farmers Market, and building a thriving private events business.
The plan is to continue with farmers markets and private events once the restaurant is up and running, and to maintain collaborations with his farmers market neighbors, including buying mozzarella from Cosmic Wheel Creamery, vegetables from Loon Organics, speck from Red Table Meat Co. and flour from Sunrise Flour Mill.
“This was part of my plan for a long time, and it’s exciting to see it come to fruition,” said Peisert. “It’s all working out the way I wanted it to.”