A month after saying goodbye to a highly successful six-year run at the Bachelor Famer (50 2nd Av. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920, thebachelorfarmer.com), chef Paul Berglund has a new job. He’s culinary director for Vestalia Hospitality.
That’s the company that Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur, spouses and business partners, recently formed for their three popular, critically acclaimed restaurants, Pizzeria Lola (5557 Xerxes Av. S., Mpls., 612-424-8334, pizzerialola.com), Hello Pizza (3904 Sunnyside Road, Edina, 952-303-4514, hellopizza.com) and Young Joni (165 13th Av. NE., Mpls., 612-345-5719, youngjoni.com). Vesta is the Roman goddess of hearth and home.
The couple have no specific plans for opening additional restaurants, but eventually adding new properties to their portfolio is one reason why they’ve recruited Berglund.
“One area that was keeping me from wanting to look at growth was that it meant that the culinary part would fall entirely upon me,” Kim said.
“I’m fine with one restaurant. Two is almost doable. Three is nearly impossible without having a breakdown. We’ve managed to do it successfully because we have an amazing team. But we want to grow in a sustainable way, and that means putting people first, and finding the right people to drive that growth.”
“I need help,” Kim said. “I need a partner. Someone I can bounce ideas off of, but not just anybody. It has to be someone I really trust, and respect. Someone who has skills and talents that I don’t have, so that I can learn from them, and they can learn from me.”
Turns out, Berglund was a natural fit. The three met nearly three years ago at a pre-opening party at Spoon and Stable and became fast friends. When Berglund was looking for his next career move, he sought the couple’s advice, while they turned to him for insight on how to advance their business goals.
“We were hanging out a lot and talking,” Berglund said. “Their awareness of the need for this culinary director position, and my focus on what I wanted to do next, just kind of came together.”
Kim wants to be crystal clear. “It wasn’t like we went to Paul and said, ‘Hey, here’s a culinary director position. Will you leave the Bachelor Farmer for it?’ It wasn’t that at all. We just started talking, and after a while, we were finishing each other’s sentences.
“It was kind of like dating. You either know, or you don’t, and the further we got along in this dating phase, it was like, ‘We belong together.’ ”
Berglund’s pre-Bachelor Farmer résumé also informed his new gig at a company firmly rooted in pizza dough. His first culinary job out of the Navy was spending nine months working a wood-burning pizza oven in Oakland, Calif. When he moved to the Twin Cities, he baked bread at Rustica in Minneapolis and the former Heartland in St. Paul.
“Those experiences gave me a better appreciation of the nature of dough, the fickle qualities of dough, the science of dough and the art of dough,” he said. “I won’t begin to say that I’m an expert at it, but one of the many exciting aspects of this job is that I get to learn from Ann and her teams.”
One role Berglund isn’t taking on is that of head chef at each of the company’s restaurants. “We already have strong, talented leaders in those places,” he said. “My principal job is to help them to be their best.”
Mentorship is a major component of Berglund’s job description.
“Paul is a James Beard Award-winning chef, and for young cooks, who doesn’t want to be mentored by someone who has that experience, and knowledge?” Kim said. “Young cooks are burning out before they’re 30. If we can’t take care of our own people, how is this industry even going to survive? We have to foster a different perspective.”
Berglund’s first day was Tuesday.
“I’m just tickled that I work with people that I really like, in restaurants that I really like, doing the things that I’m most passionate about,” he said. “That’s a golden opportunity.”