The owners of a Madelia, Minn., restaurant destroyed by fire a year ago stopped by Minneapolis' Hell's Kitchen last week — to serve food.
Dishing out taquitos, enchiladas verde and fried ice cream like the kind they serve at their La Plaza Fiesta restaurant, owners Krystal Hernandez and her husband, Daniel, along with their kitchen manager, showed their Minneapolis colleagues how they feed a crowd in the southwestern Minnesota farming community of 2,300 people.
The day was organized by Hell's Kitchen as a fundraiser for the Madelia restaurant and its efforts to rebuild, with Hernandez taking home 10 percent of the day's proceeds.
"It was the coolest thing," Krystal Hernandez said. "We still don't understand how or why they did this thing for us. I hope that someday I can be of this much help to somebody else and I can repay them the favor."
Her beloved La Plaza Fiesta, a popular Madelia eatery, was one of eight businesses wiped out by the Feb. 3, 2016, blaze. No one was injured in the fire, which gutted a stretch of the town's main street and displaced a dentist's office, flower shop, hair salon, insurance agency and a Culligan water business.
Fire investigators could not determine what started the early morning fire.
Hernandez relocated to the town's golf course last summer, taking over the clubhouse after a new kitchen was added. The restaurant's 95 seats were full 30 minutes after she announced on Facebook that it was opening. Hernandez said she hopes to move out of the clubhouse next month in preparation for a grand opening sometime in May at the new La Plaza Fiesta that is taking shape on Main Street.
"It's finally, finally, finally starting to look like our restaurant in there," she said. The new place will include a small grocery store, which Hernandez had planned to add at the old location when the fire hit.
Hernandez said she and her husband arrived in Minneapolis at 8 a.m. last Wednesday and put in a 12-hour day at Hell's Kitchen. The day got off to a good start with a takeout order for 250 taquitos from state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, who reportedly was serving them to the Republican caucus.
Beyond the money raised for her business, Hernandez said she prizes the relationships she's made with her Minneapolis colleagues and the things she and her husband learned from the back-of-the-house setup at Hell's Kitchen.
"We learned so much about the kitchen," she said. "There was something new every second."
Hell's Kitchen president Pat Forciea said it's not the first time the restaurant has reached out to help outstate Minnesota. A pancake breakfast for the Embarrass, Minn., fire department two years ago had them serving food up on the Iron Range, where Forciea was raised.
He said he and Hell's Kitchen co-owner Cynthia Gerdes saw the news about Madelia last year and sent an e-mail to Hernandez a few days after the fire, with offers to help. That led to a yearlong friendship with Hernandez, he said.
"She's got quite a following," Gerdes said.
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329 Twitter: @_mattmckinney