It has been 41 years since the Vikings have played in a Super Bowl.
Wayne Kostroski has a better record.
Veteran marketer-restaurateur Kostroski, quarterback of 27 Super Bowl-eve Taste of the NFL banquets, is back for the first Minneapolis Super Bowl since his inaugural dinner here in 1992 that raised nearly $100,000 for Twin Cities nutrition programs.
On Saturday night, at the “Party with the Purpose” at St. Paul’s RiverCentre, attendees will pay $700 to $1,000 per plate to dine on entrees prepared by top chefs and enjoy big-name entertainers.
And that event, along with several related dinners held in other NFL cities leading to the Super Bowl gala, and the affiliated online site, Kickhungerchallenge.com, is expected to raise well over $1 million for St. Paul’s Second Harvest Heartland and other like programs in about 10 NFL cities.
“We simply [leverage the Super Bowl and the NFL] to raise awareness and dollars for hunger-related causes,” said Kostroski, about whom I’ve written a couple columns since 2001. “It’s been one of the best things in my life.
“I was in Florida [for a recent Super Bowl dinner] and a guy came up to me in a restaurant where I ordered a sandwich and said, ‘Wayne, I know you. I was a culinary student in Miami and I volunteered at the [NFL] dinner. Now, I work at a restaurant and volunteer at the food bank.’ ”
Kostroski, 66, is not a football buff. He’s been a musician, a bar manager, a restaurant owner, baker and fundraiser. He is far more consultant and marketer than foodie. He’s an opportunistic entrepreneur who has survived by his wits in an industry that wipes out restaurateurs every year. In fact, he’s pretty much out of the restaurant trade, other than as a consultant.
He’s a partner, the amiable outside face of a private company, Cuisine Concepts, which operates the 140-employee Franklin Street Bakery in Minneapolis, as well as Tejas Express at the Minnesota State Fair.
“It’s good not to have to worry about whether the dishwasher will show up for work every night,” quipped Kostroski, who worried about that and related matters as owner at former restaurants such as Tejas and Goodfellows. “The fair is only 12 days.
“Hunger Related Events,” the legal name of the Taste of the NFL nonprofit Kostroski started years ago, took in $1.4 million in contributions and other revenue in 2015, according to its last filing with state regulators.
Kostroski doesn’t take a salary for the 25 hours he works every week. However, Cuisine Concepts was paid a fee of $180,000 to manage operations for Taste-related events at the Super Bowl and several other cities. A Nashville marketing firm received $109,500. Most of the rest of the money gets paid out to food charities.
Kostroski’s illustrious hospitality-and-entertainment career began as a dishwasher at a Wisconsin state college.
He started playing in high school with what became a band, of some regional notice, that often played in a bar in the 1970s connected to the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.
In the late 1970s, he took a job as the bar manager. Then he helped run the renovated St. James Hotel in Red Wing. He joined the Parasole restaurant group to open Pronto and Figlio in the early 1980s.
Kostroski spun out on his own into what became Cuisine Concepts in the late 1980s. He opened Tejas downtown with John Dayton, a Dallas lawyer and restaurateur, and the former Goodfellows in City Center.
He started Taste in 1992 to raise money at that year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Most locals stayed away from downtown for fear of huge lines at restaurants.
The big event was largely a private party in hotel suites. Few showed up at loop eateries. But Kostroski’s dinner for 60 or 70 donors worked. And Tejas in the former Conservatory did a brisk Super Bowl-related business for locals and visitors, thanks partly to Kostroski’s planning and marketing prowess.
Married and the father of three, the restaurant business had started to wear thin about 15 years ago.
Kostroski and his business partner, Mark Haugen, originally a chef, focused on consulting and the expanding Franklin Street Bakery.
Kostroski moved it to new quarters in a revitalized East Franklin Avenue 15 years ago on the site of a once crime-plagued lot. He’s battled a bit with growth, including with neighbors over truck deliveries, and with union organizers who so far have been unsuccessful.
Kostroski is a venerable business guy and Super Bowl-class marketer with an anti-hunger mission that hasn’t hurt business, to say the least. In fact, it’s part of his business. He also helps the NFL claim the Super Bowl is more than just the season’s final gladiator spectacle and VIP party zone.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.