Building an Empire
Kim Bartmann Takes Over the Twin Cities
Very few chefs understand the dining landscape of the Twin Cities as well as Kim Bartmann. The two-time James Beard Award finalist has been immersed in it since opening her first coffee shop in 1991, and she now presides over 10 successful—and distinctly different—Minneapolis restaurants.
From the casual fun of Bryant Lake Bowl & Theater and warm brasserie vibe of Barbette to the cutting-edge urban farm that is Tiny Diner, Bartmann has always stayed a step ahead of the trends. Here, she shares her thoughts on local tastes, balanced menus and the economic upside of going green.
Restaurant Inc.: Each of your restaurants is different. What ties them together?
Kim Bartmann: The unifying thing about my restaurants is the thing that makes them unique: they are “of a place”—of the neighborhood and buildings that they’re in. The other unifying thing is that they’ve been farm to table pretty much from the beginning, and have helped lead the way with sustainability efforts: first LEED-certified restaurant, a majority of restaurants doing the first zero waste in partnership with the city and county, etc.
RI: What do people in the Twin Cities look for when they go out to eat?
KB: We have a pretty well-travelled and well-educated populace, in general. I try to have balanced menus: price points, diet preferences like offering vegetarian items and awareness of trends. I think the idea that people care about their food and where it comes from isn’t a trend; it’s a slow build to a different outlook and reality around food in general.
RI: How do you balance the need to follow local preferences with your desire to share your own ideas?
KB: I’m a passionate presenter of local foods, even to the extent that we do some of our own farming. But I’m also an omnivore with a lot of culinary curiosity, so with 10 restaurants we have a lot of opportunity to explore all sorts of cuisines and flavors.
RI: What draws you to focusing on sustainability, regional ingredients and other green initiatives? Does it lower your costs?
KB: Yes, the LEED ends up lowering a restaurant’s operating costs, so it’s a good way to build whether you’re a tree hugger or not. And I think food grown or harvested that way—let’s not forget sustainable seafood—just tastes better. It is often a better business decision. For instance, a few years back when gas prices went through the roof, everybody’s beef prices went right along with that increase. Mine stayed the same. My farmer wasn’t hauling beef all across the country like everyone else’s.
RI: How’s the drinking scene?
KB: Craft breweries are growing like crazy in the Twin Cities, as are the number of small distilleries. And believe it or not, we’ve got a vineyard or two with many gold medals on their wines. I’m a tequila and gin drinker, so my cocktail would be one of our seasonal creations, or, on ice. I just opened a bubbles bar (Trapeze), so I’ve been pretty into the quality control on those lately.