After his was car broken into outside his Cathedral Hill restaurant Handsome Hog, chef Justin Sutherland’s resolve to persevere through an already challenging year had been shaken.
“2020 has been a test to say the least,” Sutherland wrote Sept. 6 on his Facebook page, just after he discovered his car’s shattered window in the parking lot.
His new laptop had been stolen, along with an Apple Watch and other personal effects. So had about $1,200 in tip money for his staffers.
“They pretty much hit the jackpot,” Sutherland said in an interview. “It was a good $5-$6,000 worth of stuff, plus a smashed window.”
But that’s not what hurt the most.
His knife roll, filled with family heirlooms, was gone.
Inside were utensils passed down to him from his grandparents, some of them brought over from Japan by his grandmother.
“It was more just sentimental value,” he said. “These things have no value to whoever took them; no pawnshop wants them. The only value they had was to me, and it was a bummer it could end up in a garbage dumpster.”
Almost two weeks later, Sutherland had essentially given up hope they’d be recovered.
Until a neighborhood girl, out looking for fairies, proved to him that he should never stop hoping.
Thursday evening, a girl and her mother, who were searching Cathedral Hill sidewalks for fairy houses, spotted the bag in the bushes about two blocks away from the restaurant, at 173 Western Av. N.
Sutherland’s Handsome Hog business card was on the bag.
“They ran over and gave it to the host. The host ran back and gave it to me. People started crying,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland himself got a little teary, he said, for having his faith restored.
“This has been a trying year in so many ways,” he said. “Having the knives show up after I’d given up hope was a pretty cool refreshing of humanity after all the constant knocks down. It was nice to see something good happen for once.”
An employee had started an online fundraiser to help Sutherland recoup his losses. Sutherland announced he will be donating the proceeds, about $400, to the GiveHope foundation.
As for the mother and daughter who discovered the knives?
“We sent them home with dinner,” Sutherland said. “I told them they could eat here for free for life.”
Meanwhile, Sutherland has had a busy September.
His Pearl and the Thief restaurant, formerly of Stillwater, is holding a weekends-only pop-up through Oct. 24 at the now-shuttered Octo Fishbar (289 E. 5th St., St. Paul). Tickets for the seven-course tasting menu are available at $85 on Tock. Woodfired Cantina, where Sutherland is the culinary director, just opened last week at Keg & Case Market (928 W. 7th St., St. Paul). He’s also in charge of the menu at the Gnome Craft Pub (498 Selby Av., St. Paul).
And his flagship Handsome Hog will soon be converting its patio into an ice bar, with fire pits and enclosed domes for outdoor dining all winter long.
“We’re making it a year-round experience,” he said.