DID YOU SEE: Rochester's Favorite Restaurants 2021
‘There is a silver lining to all of this’
From Jennifer Becker, Bleu Duck
“We have consistently tried to come up with any ideas to involve all. We began offering local delivery paired up with other local companies. We have offered our space to create Local Vendor Markets, giving space to 16-18 other local vendors to sell their products with us. We also used this same concept to create Local Food Markets—same concept, but all food. Local restaurants, farmers, start ups, etc.
And our dear kitchen staff—they never gave up. They gave us 110% during all of this.
There is a silver lining to all of this. We have realized the importance of how crucial supporting local is and have made so many dear friends who are fellow small business owners, welcoming them into our space and working together as a team. We would have not known these people, otherwise. It has been beautiful on so many levels. We are thankful everyday for all the good people there are in the community!”
‘Never take anything for granted’
From Charlie Brannon and Nhut Tran, Charlie’s Eatery & Pub
“The biggest thing that we have learned is never take anything for granted. Don’t take for granted that every day we will be doing business as usual. We have had to make a lot of hard decisions. Trying to survive is the key. It is called Survival 101.
We did have a number of things that surprised us. We have a group of weekly Friday morning coffee regulars (mostly local business people) that came together after the first shutdown. They pooled money and gave it to us to contact local nonprofit groups to supply meals during the shutdown for the needy.
We had a number of our regular customers that helped us out by buying gift certificates and giving them away. We have been in this business a long time and never have experienced anything like this.”
‘We must rely on each other’
From Henry Clarin, Nova Restaurant Group (Chester’s Kitchen and Bar, Terza Ristorante, Pescara Fresh Seafood)
“We must rely on each other. We’ve learned the importance of knowing and understanding that our Rochester community will get Rochesterians through any hardships we encounter.
This is the time we need to help our locally owned and operated small businesses and restaurants. Over the last year we have seen numerous examples of how fragile these businesses can be, and, as a result, many of the establishments that we have come to cherish in Rochester will never return. As an operator of three downtown restaurants, I am asking for myself, my staff members, and the numerous businesses that are in our supply chain—and for all the businesses in our downtown special services district—that we need your help, Rochester. Spend your dollar here, in our community. Utilize the services offered by your neighbors and friends here in Rochester and Olmsted County. Now is the time to give back to your community.”
‘Be true to who we are’
From Pasquale Presa, Pasquale’s Neighborhood Pizzeria
“What this time has taught us is to be true to who we are, genuine to others, and to never pull away from building, innovating, and working hard. We’ve been taken further and I feel like there’s still so much potential ... Going into COVID, our staff all discussed how we could tackle the ups, downs, and curveballs getting thrown at us. Eventually, we adapted. I moved forward with my frozen pizza line, and our team really stepped up. We’ve found a pride that comes with being able to showcase fresh, clean, healthy goods while taking care of our team and our community, which have been the foundation of our success.”
From Natalie Victoria, Victoria’s Restaurant
“When the pandemic first hit back in March, and schools started to close, we immediately offered free meals for area youth. The free meals were an instant success. Our staff started bringing in treats they purchased themselves to go along with the meals. Area restaurants that closed donated their food.
Chocolaterie Stam in The Galleria donated 50 gallons of gelato. Food distributors started sending in fresh produce that would otherwise have gone bad. Community members started sending in checks to help pay for kids’ meals. Daube’s Bakery donated box upon box of fresh donuts. Shorewood Senior Center sent in fresh milk. We became the ‘headquarters’ in the mission to help feed the communities biggest assets—our kids! ...
In January 2021, Victoria’s had a couple visitors. Two gals came in and stole the staff’s tips from the evening. There was a video of the incident; it was shared on social media over 100 times. The next evening, two farm kids from Eyota popped in, ordered take out, and proceeded to hand their corn ‘earnings’ from the previous summer to the employees. They wanted them to have their money. We about fell to the floor in disbelief.
The world is filled with amazing people.
This pandemic, as horrible as it was, had some sweet spots. And ‘together’ ( IMHO) has become the most powerful word of 2020.”
‘We have all pulled together’
From Alaina Pappas, The Hubbell House
“All of our customers have blown us away with their continued support they have shown us through the shutdowns. We know it isn’t the best to eat steak out of a to-go box, but people made it work. We had customers bring tables and chairs to set up in our parking lot. When it got cold, we had people ask us to bring things out to them in courses to their cars, that way they could pretend like they were out to eat. We have had one couple order every Tuesday since the first day of the shutdown, March 17, 2020. On March 16, 2021, it will mark 52 consecutive weeks that they have ordered takeout. It is people like them that have kept us going, and we are so thankful.
Our staff has stepped up to take on any role/task that is asked of them. We have had front-of-house staff learn roles in the kitchen. ... Sometimes in restaurants you can get a front of house vs. back of house culture, and I really think this entire experience has helped take that away. All of our staff has rocked it, and I am so proud of everyone.
This ‘experience’ of COVID-19 has made us reevaluate how we do business, in such good ways. It’s kind of like a fresh start that we can do what works for us. I am so proud of all our staff and the effort each person has given. In a year where everyone’s life was turned upside down, we have all pulled together to make sure our restaurant continues to succeed. “
‘We live in a caring community’
From Steve Dunn, Taco JED
“It’s been difficult, because we have had to constantly adapt. We had to lay off all our part-time employees, and each member of the team took a reduction in hours. I never had one complaint. I have had team members who have taken reduced hours so that another team member could get more hours. This was done without me having to ask—done to help another family out that needed the hours more than they did. We have an amazing team who really care about each other ...
The community has stepped up in many ways. ... We’ve had a number of excessive tips, but also an appreciation from our customers through kind words and gratitude to help our team during this difficult period.
I’ve learned that we live in a caring community. I guess it is obvious with all the sacrifices made by our health care workers, but it is so much more than that. I’ve also learned if we work together, we can get through anything.”
‘Continue to focus on what makes you special’
From Nick Powers, Canadian Honker
“Thanksgiving day of 2020 is a memory that will stick with us forever. Thanksgiving has always been our highest volume day, but this year it was an increase like we have never seen. In 2019, we made about 2,300 meals. In 2020, we accomplished 3,700 meals.
The challenges of having that many meals picked up in takeout boxes served hot and ready to go in such a short window of time was a rush like no other. We had over 60 team members involved and each person played a crucial role on making this day a success!
We have so many stories. We had ‘regulars’ drop off money to be passed to struggling employees, numerous businesses ordering food on a daily basis or buying large amounts of gift cards, many businesses and nonprofits thinking outside the box with their annual Christmas parties or galas. It’s been overwhelming, the support our community has shown us.
When your back’s against the wall, there is always a way of creating a positive outcome with what you have. The process may not go as planned, but the outcome is based on your ability to focus on what you can control. Do not get bogged down with uncontrollable/drama related details. Continue to focus on what makes you special and shift all your energy into your true mission.”
‘It brings tears to our eyes’
From Michelle and Myron Salz, Twigs Tavern & Grille
“Our dedicated staff is the reason Twigs has been able to keep our doors open during COVID-19. On Thursdays, during the first shutdown, we donated 20% of our sales to various local organizations. The takeout orders flew in for these fundraisers. Our crew of 8-10 people went above and beyond, working harder and faster than ever to try to keep up! It was like a switch turned on every Thursday as we were inundated with community support in the form of incredibly high amounts of takeout orders. We were grateful on every level.
Without our incredible team, we would not have been able to continue our #ThankfulThursdays. The combined efforts of our team, managers, and the Rochester community allowed us to donate approximately $7,000 to local organizations and frontline heroes.
We would have never dreamed in a million years that we would become a primarily take-out restaurant! We learned we had to be innovative and agile. We learned that once we went digital with online ordering, we weren’t so bad at it! Even though this has been the hardest year Twigs has ever had to endure, what we learned is when your community wants to support you, you gladly put in systems so they can conveniently do so.
As the cold weather loomed, we knew we were going to lose our patio seating and became more and more concerned. Then came the second round of closures, and we truly didn’t know how things would turn out. Just as our hearts became heavier than we thought they could become, outdoor dining opened back up. Cue patio seating in the midst of snowflakes and 30 degree weather. And in true Minnesotan style, Rochester showed their love and support in droves! They came and dined around our cozy fire pits and heaters, wrapped up in snuggly blankets with spiked hot drinks in hand. The Rochester community has stood by our side through all of this. It brings tears to our eyes. We can’t thank this beautiful community enough.”
From Michelle Provance, Server, Canadian Honker
“I have learned over this past year the happiness that simple human interactions can bring. We do this job because we love people, and we have the ability to make someone’s day brighter. Having a positive attitude, a smile, and lending a listening ear can make all the difference for someone who is going through a hard time.
I’ve also learned that I take for granted my relationships with my coworkers. When they were taken away so suddenly it was quite the shock to my system. I missed knowing what everyone was doing over the weekend, and what their kids were learning in school.
So many small businesses have had to make what seem like impossible decisions during this pandemic. I will never take for granted how fortunate I was during the past year to work where I do, in a community as giving and caring as Rochester.”
From Gareth Russell, Manager, Pasquale’s Neighborhood Pizzeria
“I’ve learned that, in times of trouble, ‘Minnesota Nice’ is even nicer than usual. During COVID, I saw people really taking care of each other.
Our customers have always been loyal, but they really stepped up. They were coming in and buying pizzas—some ordering 12 frozen pizzas at a time—to take home to support the restaurant. It was awesome.
Our employees stepped up, too. We had to cut back at first, and the high school workers stepped back so that the people who were reliant on the job could get more hours.
A lot of that has to do with (owner) Pasquale and how amazing he is. He has a vision of excellence and of giving back to the community, and his employees follow suit. Our customers see that and they want to give back to us. It’s a circle of support.
We knew people in the community were struggling, so Pasquale had the idea of offering free meals to families in need. We gave free calzones to people during Christmas and on Valentine’s Day. It felt really good to give back to the community that’s been supporting us.”
From Josue Cruz Lead line cook, Bleu Duck
“Over the past year, I’ve learned that it’s all about team. It is not just me. We have a strong team and we trust each other. I am chosen to lead the line, but we all push together to make Bleu Duck what it is.”
Barb Schuh, (Recently retired) purchasing manager, Victoria’s Ristorante & Wine Bar
“I’ve learned that people really come together in times of trouble.
When everything was closing down and no one knew what was going to happen, (owner) Natalie said, ‘We can’t have kids that don’t have food. We have to feed them.’ So we offered free kids meals.
And that turned into something awesome.
Our vendors heard about the free meals, and they stepped up. Pohl Foods sent us 120 pounds of free pasta. Eau Galle Cheese sent 12 rounds of Parmesan.
I called our other vendors, and soon we were receiving flats of produce and other items. I put together a ‘store’ in the restaurant so that when families came in to pick up free meals, they’d get grocery bags of food, too.
Help just came out of the woodwork from area organizations and other restaurants. And community members started bringing Natalie money, saying, ‘We want to give this for free meals for kids.’ With all that support, we’ve been able to serve thousands of free meals to kids. People would come in and pick up 20-30 meals at a time to deliver to low-income apartment buildings. One day, we went to two trailer parks and fed 300 families in a single afternoon. It was amazing to be a part of that.”