Has anyone had a more productive year than the ownership trio behind the Travail Collective?

Let’s run down what James Winberg, Bob Gerken and Mike Brown accomplished over the past 12 months.

They converted their flagship Travail Kitchen & Amusements in Robbinsdale into a new home for their top-flight Pig Ate My Pizza, expanding the pizzeria’s ambitions and adding a brewery component.

While construction commenced across the street on their new home for Travail, the trio and their crew decamped to Minneapolis and launched the Travail Mpls. Residency, which, as the year progressed, morphed into four distinctly different restaurants.

The range — and the turn-on-a-dime focus — was astounding: a re-creation of Umami (a callback to the trio’s wildly successful 2013 Asian pop-up), an homage to 1990s fine dining, a celebration of contemporary Mexican cooking and then an affectionate salute to Solera, the former downtown Minneapolis tapas restaurant. All followed Travail’s should-be-patented prepaid tasting-menu format.

Along with the insatiable need to burn off creative energy the way a CrossFit enthusiast consumes calories, Winberg, Gerken and Brown used the Residency to remain in touch with their enormous fan base. And to keep their coterie of highly skilled kitchen personnel employed and immersed in a fruitful on-the-job training opportunity.

“We’re sharpening our chefs like knives,” said Brown with a laugh.

Along the way, the Travailians collaborated with a host of top chefs, including Doug Flicker, Tim McKee and Gustavo Romero.

They’re not done. A fifth temporary restaurant is just weeks away. It’s a partnership with former Corner Table chef Karyn Tomlinson for a Scandinavia-meets-Minnesota evening called, yes, Uffda, that’s kicking off in January.

That’s not all. They also helped their pal (and fellow longtime Travailian) Kale Thome launch his excellent Minnesota BBQ Co., and they rocked Robbinsdale with their annual summer outdoor bash. And in their “spare” time, the trio picked up power tools and pitched in to build the sleekly impressive new home for Travail Kitchen & Amusements. The three-level, next-generation property is opening to the public in early March.

As with all things Travail, the anticipation is palpable.




The Star Tribune began designating a Chef of the Year in 2015. Past winners include:

Daniel Del Prado of Martina
4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls., martinarestaurant.com (2018)

Gavin Kaysen of Bellecour
739 E. Lake St., Wayzata, bellecourrestaurant.com (2017)

Steven Brown of St. Genevieve
5003 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., stgmpls.com (2016)

Jorge Guzman, formerly of Surly Brewing Co.
520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., surlybrewing.com (2015)