Food Entrepreneurship

Local Entrepreneur Hopes to Unite People Through Tacos with Taco JED

Photo courtesy of  AB-Photography.us.

Photo courtesy of AB-Photography.us.

Local entrepreneur Steve Dunn is filling a gap in the Rochester food scene with his business Taco JED. Dunn aims for his restaurant to be welcoming to everyone in the community and to bring people together through a love of tacos.

Dunn, a native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, began his career in insurance and commercial real estate before setting his sights on food.

“I got into the whole taco business is because of the recession,” Dunn explained. 

The economic downturn hit the commercial real estate market hard, causing financial strain for Dunn’s employer. At that point, Dunn decided to leave real estate behind, launching a taco restaurant in 2010, called Rusty Taco, in Dallas, Texas alongside Rusty Fenton. After Rusty passed away, the restaurant was acquired by Buffalo Wild Wings in 2014 and is now owned by Inspire Brands. Rusty Taco franchises have opened in thirty-one different locations in eight states. Dunn moved from Dallas to Minneapolis to help grow the brand working with Buffalo Wild Wings. He spent several years growing the Franchise business as CEO of Rusty Taco, before deciding it was time to move on yet again and open up a restaurant of his very own.

Dunn knew he wanted to launch his newest business somewhere in Minnesota to stay close to family. His siblings currently live around the Twin Cities and parents live in Bemidji.  His son attends Concordia Saint Paul and his daughters study in Nebraska. After researching several markets, Dunn chose Rochester.

“Rochester is the fastest growing city in Minnesota,” he explained. “I checked out the competition and felt that I had a little niche that I could fit into.”

Dunn found a location for his business along South Broadway and opened his newest endeavor, Taco JED, on October 4th of last year.

“We want [the restaurant] to be open and inviting to everyone. Our motto is ‘Tacos Unite People,’” he said. 

Dunn hopes to keep Taco JED as local as possible with Rochester beers on tap, local art on the walls, and live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

While building Taco JED, Dunn has been very intentional, down to the details. The restaurant itself is represented by a cartoon of a tousled-haired, sun glassed, cap wearing, bearded character called JED, who stands for whatever Dunn wants at any given moment. However, the name JED pays homage to Dunn’s father, grandfather, and great grandfather, all named Joseph Edward Dunn. In addition to the JED mascot, many other seemingly random items in the restaurant have significant purpose. A rooster image in dining area of the restaurant is from Dunn’s mother. Photography from Dunn’s brother adorns the walls, including an image for one of Dunn’s daughters. Albums lining the walls were chosen by people who worked on the restaurant. Gifted fan art of JED hangs on a wall near the kitchen, created by local artist Brian Jungers. Motorcycle helmets donated by customers, representing one of JED’s favorite hobbies, line the restaurant. A large display Dunn built himself hangs along a side wall displaying patches from all sixty national parks, encouraging people to “Go see the world and eat tacos.”

While the layout of the restaurant is similar to what Dunn was accustomed to with Rusty Taco, he called on Dallas designer Brent McMahon to help bring his new vision to life. Beyond a common blueprint, Dunn was able to apply many lessons learned from Rusty Taco to the current business, but said staffing was originally a challenge. Dunn says he’s happy with the progress Taco JED has made over the last few months and feels the food itself has been well received in the community. 

Taco JED will soon be open on Sundays, along with more live music. JED’s Shed, the bar portion of the restaurant, is currently building a patio for outdoor seating, which will be serving margaritas soon.

Local Entrepreneur Supplying Rochester with Alaskan Salmon Right from "Fisherman to Freezer"

Photo courtesy of Frederick Sound Fish Co.

Photo courtesy of Frederick Sound Fish Co.

Rochester native Ryan Mulvihill has always sought adventure. This solopreneur has been sustainably fishing the waters in southeast Alaska for the past six years, supplying Rochester with hook-caught salmon that go straight “from the fisherman right to your freezer from the same guy” with his business Frederick Sound Fish Co.

Salmon processed, frozen, packaged and ready for shipment. Photo courtesy of Frederick Sound Fish Co.

Salmon processed, frozen, packaged and ready for shipment. Photo courtesy of Frederick Sound Fish Co.

Mulvihill’s path to salmon fishing has traversed over 5,000 miles and nearly ten years. In 2008 he moved from Rochester to a city in the very southeastern region of Alaska, called Ketchikan, to work as a forester. After three years, he was promoted and transferred to Sheridan, Wyoming to continue in this government position. By some stroke of fate, Mulvihill was able to room with a friend’s acquaintance named Maria, who was also moving to Sheridan from Alaska. When the seasons changed, Mulvihill also met her boyfriend, a man named Lynn Steyaart, who fished in southeastern Alaska.

A few years later, Mulvihill decided it was time to leave the forestry service and head back north to “The Last Frontier.” He had no definitive plan except to find work on the water. Fast forward one year later and Mulvihill is salmon fishing with Steyaart on his boat The Honeywilya. He’s been splitting his time between Rochester and southeast Alaska ever since.

Mulvihill’s business, Frederick Sound Fish Co., began largely by accident. One summer after fishing in Alaska, he brought some of his salmon back to Rochester, cooked it up for some friends, and everyone wanted more. He thought, why not bring back even more fish the following year and try to sell it? Mulvihill has been selling his salmon under Frederick Sound Fish Co. for close to three years now in Rochester.

Mulvihill spends May through September each year fishing in the Frederick Sound, a narrow channel of the Pacific Ocean that separates Kupreanof and Admiralty Islands in southeastern Alaska. He fishes for two of the five types of salmon that live in the Pacific: King and Coho.

Mulvihill is a power troller, meaning he catches salmon on fishing lines, not in nets, a more sustainable fishing method with little bycatch. Think of trolling like hook and line fishing on steroids.

First, Mulvihill and his fishing partner (which for the first few summers was Captain Steyaart and now is a man named Captain Eric) hook giant poles up to The Honeywilya. From these poles, they drop steel lines with about eighty individually baited hooks into the water, which are drawn through the sound by the boat. Once a fish is hooked, large springs that connect the lines to the poles begin to bounce, signaling that it’s time to pull in that line. On a good day, they can bring in upwards of three hundred fifty salmon.

The fish are all gutted and gilled right on the boat and cleaned out with seawater. The salmon are then packed in ice and processed in Alaska. Mulvihill sells the majority of his catch before ever leaving the state. He then flies the rest of the salmon, frozen, to Rochester. September through December are again extremely busy for Mulvihill, this time with selling his salmon.

“Everything I own is in this fish,” he explained.

Business for Frederick Sound Fish Co. originally grew by word of mouth. Now each summer that Mulvihill returns to Rochester, he has an ever-expanding list of clients ready to purchase the salmon. He chuckled that sometimes this part is a bit mysterious and even “sketchy.” He has a website where people can find more information about the fish; however, customers typically call him to purchase the salmon and he usually hand delivers it, right to the buyer.

The Honeywilya.  Photo courtesy of Frederick Sound Fish Co.

The Honeywilya. Photo courtesy of Frederick Sound Fish Co.

“I’ve met people all over to get a fish,” he laughed.

Besides organic growth, Mulvihill’s participated in a few events with his fish at local restaurants. This past November, he also was a part of the FEAST! Festival and Tradeshow local food marketplace.

Mulvihill knows that he’s providing a valuable, sustainable product. He witnesses how each fish is treated, right from the hook through the transportation and delivery. He takes particular pride in the care they take in cleaning the fish and keeping their fishing boat sterile.

“Since we’re doing it ourselves, we really take our time because everyone knows it’s my fish,” he said.

Now, Mulvihill’s educating himself on the ins and outs of food laws in Minnesota and will perhaps develop a new, tasty twist for his business in the near future.

How to be a Wife, Mom, Employee, and Run a Successful Business: The Story of Julie Herrera-Lemler

Photo courtesy of You Betcha Cupcake!

Photo courtesy of You Betcha Cupcake!

Julie Herrera-Lemler is one entrepreneur who just gets things done. By day, she’s a project assistant at a local construction firm. By night (and during the very early mornings), she’s the owner and sole operator of You Betcha Cupcake!, creating homemade, “Minnesota nice” cupcakes since 2009. Blended in amongst all of this, Herrera-Lemler is also a Field Editor for Taste of Home magazine, a baking instructor, Election Judge, Vice President of a local chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, wedding officiant, public speaker, recipe writer, wife, and mother.

Herrera-Lemler developed a love for baking almost ten years ago and is completely self-taught.

“I didn’t go to school [for baking]. But, I had a passion for it. When you have a passion for something and you just love it, you will watch every video, every food channel, every YouTube video, everything until you get it to the way you want it,” she explained.

She started out baking cupcakes and selling them for charity in her own front yard during Rochester’s city-wide garage sales one summer. The next year, her cupcakes raised triple the amount, even attracting repeat customers. People asked her if she ever considered opening up a baking business, the cupcakes were in such demand.

“I thought, well, I don’t know. It’s just for fun,” she explained.

If she did want to launch her own cupcake business, Herrera-Lemler knew she could teach herself the baking portion. However, she was nervous about actually turning her baking into a company.

She spent the next few years researching how to start a business in Minnesota and took a six-week course with SCORE in Rochester, a free network of professional business mentors and a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“They teach you everything, from start to finish,” Herrera-Lemler said.

SCORE helped her find financial and legal experts, although at that time not much food mentorship was available through the local program.

“There’s no book that says this is how you start a cupcake business. It’s really trial and error. Lots of phone calls [with the Department of Health],” she explained.

After the SCORE training, Herrera-Lemler began purchasing supplies for her cupcake business little by little to avoid taking out loans.

“And then I just decided that I was going to start it,” she said.

Locating a commercial kitchen space, especially one with availability in the evenings, was actually the largest hurdle Herrera-Lemler faced in launching You Betcha Cupcake!

“That took the longest. All the other stuff was falling into place and I was just kind of sitting at home waiting for a kitchen,” she explained.

After visiting seven or eight different spaces, a friend of Herrera-Lemler suggested a kitchen space within a local church, which ended up being the perfect fit.

“I approached them with a box of cupcakes and said, ‘Will you lease to me?’ It just all worked out,” she explained.

Since that time, You Betcha Cupcake! has been crafting over twenty-five different kinds of cupcakes for individuals, corporations, and large events.

In the beginning stages of the business Herrera-Lemler said the growth was slow; she had to learn how to network and position the business well on social media.

“I knew how to do a little [social media]. I needed to learn how to do a lot,” she laughed.

Nine years later, Herrera-Lemler and her cupcakes continue to satisfy the sweet tooth of Rochester residents. With the many hats she wears, Herrera-Lemler credits three key points to successfully running a side business for this length of time: support, organization, and prioritization.

Her whole family is on board with the business. Her sons even help to carry cupcakes into wedding receptions and hold doors for guests, with her youngest requesting payment in Legos for his services. Her full-time employer has also been extremely supportive of her company. She’s also had key mentors throughout the process.

To help allocate time to the things she’s truly passionate about, Herrera-Lemler made a list of all the activities she does and decided “which side of the page they need to be on.” She said this is useful to evaluate the passion level to start a business. This exercise also helped to drive activities that she was not as excited about to the back of the list, including groups and endeavors that others wanted her to be involved with more than she did.

“You could use the time you spend on that group reaching that top goal that you want,” she affirmed.

Hot Chip Burger Bar, Rochester's Newest Eatery, Opens its Doors Today

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Forget your New Year’s resolutions, at least for one day. After dropping teasers on social media since October, Rochester’s newest restaurant, Hot Chip Burger Bar, opens today. This beef-centric eatery is located in the former ZZest Café space on 16th Street SW.

Restaurateur LeeAnn Zubay said that after eight years with ZZest, it was time to branch out into something new. The Zubay family has quite a depth of experience in running restaurants in Rochester- they’re the force behind Porch and Cellar as well. However, they felt there was no single restaurant in the city focused only on one thing, burgers.

“We feel like we have researched, planned, [and] created the best burger we can with the emphasis on the four key ingredients (beef, tomato, lettuce, bun) being local,” explained Zubay.

Hot Chip is led by the brother and sister team of Lindsay and Jason Zubay, alongside head chef Justin Schoville.

Although the interior of the restaurant may look vaguely familiar to frequent ZZest patrons, guests should expect a completely different experience and vibe from Hot Chip. The space has a younger, hipper feel and is a distinctly more casual setting. The walls are adorned with graffiti-like paintings, including the tongue-in-cheek cartoon burger mascot Chip, who delivers some adult-flavored messages because he just doesn’t “give a chip.” Hot Chip is full of industrial, recycled elements, such as concrete bars and countertops. Checks are delivered in CD cases, complete with the original compact disc.

This experience, of course, also includes the food. The Hot Chip menu currently has sixteen different burgers, including a made-from-scratch chickpea burger option. The eatery also boasts cheese curds with kimchi dipping sauce, adult (and kiddie) milkshakes, $2 shots, beer for the kitchen, and an Old Fashioned featuring Jason Zubay’s signature bitters.

The Zubay family has been involved in the restaurant scene in Rochester for a long time, but the business still has its challenges.

“At this point for us, nothing is a surprise. However, it does continue to amaze us that the restaurant scene is not about food only,” LeeAnn explained. “For us, food is the most important element. But for the majority of people, restaurants are a combination of things. Good food doesn’t necessarily mean success.”

They’ve taken this lesson to heart with Hot Chip; Jason Zubay said the team will be very strategic with the branding and message of Rochester’ newest burger establishment.  

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New Initiative to Gage Interest in Shared Community Kitchen Space in Rochester

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In the wake of the food truck and specialty food movements, another movement is growing.  The past four years have seen an increase in the number of kitchen incubators in the U.S.  Kitchen incubators are shared use commercial kitchen spaces that are rented out on an hourly or monthly basis to food entrepreneurs.  They may or may not include other support services for new businesses such as food safety education, technical assistance, and office space.  For one Minnesotan example, Midwest Pantry just recently unveiled their plans for a building in the St. Anthony neighborhood of Minneapolis that includes six commercial kitchen spaces and additional office space.

With the passage of Rochester's food truck ordinance and growing farmer's market, Rochester is poised on the verge of a local food renaissance.  A shared commercial kitchen space could be the key for a new entrepreneur to finally sell their grandmother's famous lefse or host their first pop up dinner.  In addition to increased food diversity, communities have also benefited from a shared commercial kitchen through food literacy programs, cooking classes, and training for at risk youth.  Successful businesses "graduate" from the incubator to opening their own space which contributes to the local economy.  Local farmers could reduce their food waste through using the kitchen to freeze or can their unsold produce.

In order for a shared commercial kitchen facility to become a reality in Rochester, general interest in its usage needs to be measured.  Any interested food entrepreneurs should fill out the survey located here.

Lotus Health Foundation Promotes Hope of Self-Care to Transform Rochester into a Healthier City

“Sixty-eight percent of Olmsted County residents are overweight or obese. …And twenty-eight percent of Olmsted County residents have two or more chronic conditions. And we’re considered one of the healthiest counties in Minnesota,” explained Dr. Jengyu Lai, Chief Manager of the Rochester Clinic.

Treatment of chronic disease in the United States accounts for eighty-six percent of healthcare costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Perhaps instead of prescribing more medications to relieve American’s health symptoms, we should take a step back and examine the root cause of these problems. Could a portion of these costs be eliminated by simple lifestyle changes?

Meiping Liu believes this is possible.

Liu- Founder of Lotus Health Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Rochester Clinic - thinks that each person has a responsibility to maintain their own health, which she says can help decrease dependency on medications and remove some pressure on today’s bloated healthcare system.

Lai, Lui, and the team of health care providers at Rochester Clinic aim to perpetuate this “hope of self-care” in their seven-year-old, community-based medical practice. Clinic staff believe in lifestyle medicine, a holistic approach with an emphasis on prevention wellness.

The best way to fulfill this mission for self-care, Lai explained, was to provide lifestyle medicine education within the community. Just last year, Lotus Health Foundation emerged to promote healthy living, collaborate with like-minded organizations, and receive funds to educate the community about lifestyle medicine.

The Complete Health Improvement Program, or CHIP, is one significant educational push made by Lotus Health Foundation to promote wellness in Rochester.

This evidence-based, comprehensive wellness improvement program was developed by Dr. Hans Diehl in 1988 and is one of the few community-focused lifestyle medicine programs with a strong history of success. The 30-year initiative has helped 80,000 people and is the focus of more than twenty-nine scientific review papers.

Healthy behaviors, Liu explained, are not learned in a single day. Instead, CHIP teaches lifestyle habits- such as exercise and stress management- in a twelve-week program that heavily relies on peer support. Guest speakers, like local dieticians or physicians, are also invited to select classes.

“[CHIP participants] always learn something at each session. And we have fun,” said Liu.

Healthy meal prep is a major focus of CHIP. “We believe in the meal. The food, really is the key part. Because a lot of people want to make changes, but they don’t know how to cook!” explained Liu. She said people often have no idea how to begin preparing their own wholesome meals and have been overwhelmed by confusing information about “healthy” foods or weight loss products.

“Weight loss doesn’t mean anything! You can have a weight loss, but you’re still not healthy,” she said.

Liu tells her “CHIPers” they don’t need to beat themselves up on the treadmill to work toward wellness. She explains that many people are in pain or are overweight and this method just causes them to give up. CHIP, instead, has no focus on weight loss, calorie counting, or portion control. The program promotes a whole-food, plant-based diet with less sugar, less oil, and less salt (SOS) where “you eat until you’re full. You eat more, weigh less,” Liu explained.

Liu first learned about CHIP at a lifestyle medicine conference in 2014 and became a CHIP certified instructor to implement the program among the Rochester Clinic staff. The first Rochester community CHIP class took place in 2015 at Hy-vee Barlow. Last fall, the class outgrew that space and moved community sessions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Over the course of the twelve-week CHIP program, Liu says she can see people’s personalities open as the group collectively pursues wellness. “The bonding is so valuable. They find they are not alone,” she explained. She said that graduation from the program does not mean that “CHIPers” will be 100% consistent with a healthy lifestyle. But when they get off track, they now have the training and education to work back toward wellness.

CHIP is not only about the health of the individual. It’s for the whole community. When you educate one person about healthy living, that person can implement wellness concepts to their entire family.

“CHIPers” still eat at restaurants. Liu explains CHIP graduates often loose the desire to order foods they normally would have before the program. Instead, they are looking for healthier options. Liu has personally worked with Rochester restaurants to get CHIP meals on their menus, even if it’s just for one, special day. “When you have one of these events, people take notice,” she explained.

Lotus Health Foundation also held their very first weeklong Community Health Fair this April to celebrate graduation of both a community and UMR student group of participants from the CHIP program. The banquet event had 200 attendees and featured CHIP founder Dr. Diehl and Tony Buettner of Blue Zones as speakers. Liu explained that community-wide events like these are the “fastest way and a fun way to get more people involved” in lifestyle medicine.

CHIP and Lotus Health Foundation are passions for Liu. She is the main contact for CHIP registration and personally sits down and speaks with each participant before the program starts. She’s the one going out and seeking involvement from local restaurants, schools, and the Rochester community. She’s the one who gets deeply attached to each group of her “CHIPers”. Liu is one of the selfless few who pursue a business with a small profit margin because she cares so deeply about the community and about the people seeking to making themselves better.

Both Rochester Clinic and Lotus Health Foundation are small and still relatively new in the community’s eyes. Now they are tasked to raise brand awareness and form lasting bonds within Rochester.

“We want to partner with the other organizations in the community. We want support from the community. We want them to know our mission and what we can do to help the community in general,” Liu explained.

Lotus Health Foundation is seeking funding sources who support their mission so they can provide more lifestyle medicine programming in the community and offer CHIP free to participants without the financial resources.

Press Release: Local Honey Producer Serves as Minnesota's First Beekeeping-Based Specific Benefit Corporation

The Bee Shed, a locally owned honey producer and distributor of beekeeping supplies and equipment, is the first beekeeping operation in Minnesota to define their corporate structure as a Specific Benefit Corporation (SBC). This structure, made possible via new legislation in 2015, enables a business to legally and publicly declare that their business decisions will contemplate public good as well as profit, making a commitment to deliberately and transparently advance a specific public good.

Prior to this change, The Bee Shed was incorporated as an LLC.

The Bee Shed has committed to the following specific benefits:

  1. The promotion and development of pollinator habitat for sustainable food production;
  2. The education of the public at large about the importance of bees and pollinator habitat; and
  3. The mentorship of new or novice beekeepers, including youth and underserved populations.
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“From a practical perspective, operating as an SBC serves notice to the public that we’re willing to put some of our time and our financial resources to something other than the bottom line,” said Chris Schad, Founder and Co-owner of The Bee Shed.

Co-owner John Shonyo noted, “This really is just codifying what we have done in our business operations from the very beginning. We have been teaching classes and giving presentations about bees and pollinator habitat throughout the region, and every year we are mentoring new beekeepers.”

The Bee Shed honey products are available in more than twenty retail stores in the Rochester area and online through their website. They also provide equipment, supplies and bees to beekeepers throughout Southeast Minnesota.

Press Release: Bleu Duck Kitchen Brings On Chef de Cuisine Jordan Bell to Kitchen

Rochester, MN: Bleu Duck Kitchen is set to expand its kitchen staff as well as its palette with the hiring of Jordan Bell as Chef de Cuisine. Jordan brings with him a unique experience that was guided by Greg Jaworski at Nosh, and he joins co-owners Erik Kleven, Jennifer Becker, and Aynsley Jones to lead a new a focus on building relationships with local farmers, nutrition, and proper food sourcing. Jordan and Co-Owner and Executive Chef Erik Kleven will be a powerhouse to push the food scene in Rochester even further in the upcoming years.

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“I love everything about food, especially finding and experimenting with new flavors,” says Jordan Bell. “Cooking for me is an expression of myself. It's a communication between me and our guests. I enjoy lightly pushing people out of their comfort zones and bring out emotion with my food. On one side of me I have food producers and on the other side I have food consumers, and I care greatly for both. A large passion for me is working with farmers knowing where my food comes from.” 

  • Jordan will be coming onto the staff full-time on February 28th, 2017.
  • Bleu Duck Kitchen’s menu will be featuring new dishes weekly that will work with local farmers and the best choices of what’s in season.
  • A new bar menu was recently introduced for guests wanting to enjoy smaller portions and additional offerings.
  • Sunday Brunch, Happy Hour, and special events in The Venue at Bleu Duck are in the works for 2017.
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About Bleu Duck Kitchen : Bleu Duck Kitchen is a full service restaurant that provides a familiar and welcoming atmosphere where the kitchen is the focus, and the atmosphere and food drives each customer’s experience.  Chef Owner Erik Kleven regards each customer as a welcomed friend, and aims to provide them with a new experience that is both personal and unique every time they visit. Bleu Duck also features an exhibition to show off where the action is to create an environment of not only “fine-dining” but also “fun-dining”.

Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery: the Family Business with Strong Minnesotan Ties

Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery, a family owned business in Spring Valley, has garnered national attention. This restaurant, vineyard, and cidery is Minnesotan to its core, from the people to the products.

Launching businesses is nothing new to Four Daughters owner Vicky Vogt, especially businesses with her daughters. She’s run an upholstery business, flipped houses, and managed an eBay business. All of the endeavors were successful. But it was time for Vicky, her husband Gary, and their daughters to try something new.

Enter Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery.

“I wanted to start a business that my daughters would be interested in moving home for. So that was the drive [to start Four Daughters],” Vicky explained.

At the time that Vicky and her family entered the wine industry in Minnesota, it was very new but growing rapidly. There were several variables and risks involved in opening a winery and vineyard, and her daughters wanted to wait before jumping into the process.

“And I said no. If we’re going to do it, we have to do it now,” Vicky said.

Vicky wrote the business plan for Four Daughters in 2010 and planted their first grapes that same year. The very first Four Daughters building opened in December 2011. Vicky and Gary even got two of their daughters to move back home to help run the business.

Expect a unique experience when visiting Four Daughters. This gem is tucked into rural Spring Valley, a thirty-minute drive directly south from Rochester. The entire Four Daughters estate includes a restaurant, tasting room, event room, six-acre vineyard, and fully operational winery and cidery.

Vicky and her family devote time to crafting the guest experience at Four Daughters. They realize that most people have never visited a winery before and want to ensure that their guests are comfortable. Usually Gary is walking around Four Daughters speaking with visitors. Even when I walked into the restaurant and gift shop before hours, I was welcomed in by the hostess who didn’t even bat an eye at someone wanting wine at 10AM on a Tuesday.

Four Daughters wants the combination of the food and the wine together to be an experience during visits. The restaurant holds special, reservation-only dinners on Thursday nights, featuring a handcrafted tasting menu with a food and wine pairing. Four Daughters constantly changes their menu and serves several different types of foods, from calamari to dumplings with an Asian flare.

Vicky’s family has been entrenched in wine production long before the doors at Four Daughters opened. Grape growing in Minnesota has some unique challenges compared to production in other areas of the country. Our climate here is damp and the grapes face mold and rot issues. It’s obviously a lot colder here than in wine country like California. Vineyards in Minnesota use special cold-hardy grape strains, many of which were developed at the University of Minnesota, that can survive temperatures down to thirty below zero. Vicky’s father was part of the Minnesota legislature in the 1980s; he fathered a bill appropriating funds to the University of Minnesota to study and develop these type of grapes. Unfortunately, he passed away in March 2010, at the time Vicky was writing the business plan for Four Daughters. But those same grapes made the restaurant and vineyard possible in the first place.

Four Daughters wines, made from these Minnesotan cold-hardy grapes, are popping up all over the place. They were served at the 2015 SXSW film festival. Four Daughters was even the Official Provider at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

How does a winery from Minnesota get into an international film festival? Apparently it takes a lot of time and the right connections. Ten years ago, Vicky created a large cancer research benefit and pulled in a band featuring Derek Hough and Mark Ballis from Dancing with the Stars to play. She became friends with their manager and poured at some of his documentary releases, which eventually led to Sundance.

Besides wine, Four Daughters also produces and distributes hard cider. The Four Daughters cider, called Loon Juice, additionally has strong Minnesotan roots. Honeycrisp apples, a fruit also developed at the University of Minnesota, makes up the base of the cider.

Five years after opening their doors, Four Daughters is still expanding. Quick growth is a challenge itself for the business.

“It’s hard to sometimes keep up with everything that you have to do to keep growing. We’ve been building since we’ve opened. And I’m hoping that next year will be a year we don’t build something. So we can just keep growing within the buildings that we have and continue that growth without a building project,” said Vicky.

Bleu Duck Brings Fresh, Kitchen Forward Dining Concept to Downtown Rochester

“We want to be a little bit of a different kind of restaurant in town. We want to have good food, good beverage, a casual atmosphere, great service. We just want to have fun with it,” said Erik Kleven, owner of Bleu Duck Kitchen, a brand new, sixty seat, American-style bistro in town.

Kleven and business partner Erik Paulsen are set to open Bleu Duck Kitchen on August 26th. For both chefs, Bleu Duck is the first restaurant of their complete own design and concept.

As a native of La Crosse, Kleven moved to the west coast during this high school years, where he also attended culinary school. Then he and his wife moved back to Rochester to raise their children in the Midwest. He worked both at Chester’s Kitchen and Bar and Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery, where he served as the Executive Chef and met Erik Paulsen, then the Four Daughters Sous Chef.

“You always think about wanting your own place at some point. …[Erik and I] get along pretty well. Fun is our number one thing. We spend more time with each other than we do with our families. So we better have a good time doing it,” said Kleven.

Bleu Duck Kitchen is a brand new concept for Rochester. The menu will constantly change and the experience will be new each visit. The chefs challenge Rochester residents to keep finding their new favorite thing on the menu.

“There’s going to be a wide variety of just really cool, classic dishes with new twists to them. We kind of have a very novel approach to our cooking. Dining is supposed to be fun. There’s no reason that the cooking towards it shouldn’t be as much fun,” said Paulsen.

Bleu Duck will make fine dining look effortless.

The chefs will implement a kitchen-forward concept so that diners feel like part of the cooking experience and become educated about their food.

Bleu Duck also has an event space, which following suit to the restaurant, will be completely unique. The main event area seats one hundred, while a private chef’s room can house twelve to fourteen people. This is not your classic venue. The space is very modern and completely customizable to what the customer wants.

“It’s their party. It’s not our party. They want it, we’ll figure out a way to get it done for them as much as we can,” explained Kleven.

Kleven and Paulsen are the chefs and owners behind Bleu Duck Kitchen, but there are other pieces to the concept.

Aynsley Jones, owner of The Doggery and also Bleu Duck, will also be sharing his cocktail making talent at the Bleu Duck bar.

Jennifer Becker, former Food and Beverage Director and Event Coordinator at the Rochester Golf and Country Club, is manning the event space and front of house.

Jennifer herself has been in the service industry since she was 13. She started by washing dishes and worked her way up. Jennifer and the Eriks worked together for a single night prior to jumping into Bleu Duck. Jennifer was volunteering at a fundraising gala for the Boys & Girls Club just this past May. As part of the event, the chefs Erik set up a popup restaurant in the Conley-Maass building.

“It was completely under construction. There was no running water. No bathrooms. And they were pulling out eight courses for forty people,” Becker said.

Kleven and Paulsen cooked a beautiful, eight course dinner smack in the middle of a construction zone. Jennifer was so impressed by the calmness and level of sanity they maintained, she knew she wanted in on Bleu Duck.

Kleven claims that their calmness stems from prepping and planning hard, but the pair are not easily rattled in the kitchen. Even opening a restaurant of their own, unique design has not shaken them.

Kleven and Paulsen’s biggest challenge came with taking off those chef hats and doing some design work.

“We’re cooks. We’re service industry. Hospitality industry. We’re not used to picking out lights and towel dispensers, things like that,” explained Paulsen.

Bleu Duck has a beautiful, historic venue to launch into this new wave of entrepreneurship for all of them. The restaurant is housed on the first floor of the Conley-Maass building on 4th Street SW. They even have table seating on the old storefront window platforms at the front of the building.

“You don’t get a lot of views like this out of any other restaurant in town,” said Kleven.

Plus, you just can’t beat the history.

“The history is very intriguing and I think that’s the selling point. People travel all around the world for places like this,” Becker related.

How to Pivot your Business Model: Transforming Sontes into a Rochester Brewpub

“But that’s part of being an entrepreneur, is forward thinking about where you’re going to be.  What do you want to do?  Where do I want to be in ten to fifteen years?” explained Tessa Leung, owner of Grand Rounds Brew Pub

Tessa has been innovating in Rochester’s food and drink scene for a long time.

This female businesswoman previously owned and ran Sontes, an upscale, locally sourced food and wine bar that used to sit right on the corner of 3rd Street SW and South Broadway.  While business at Sontes was great, Tessa could see that it was time for a change.  On April 15th last year, tax day for those keeping score, Tessa and her business partner/head brewer Steve Finnie opened up Grand Rounds Brew Pub, the very first brewpub in over twenty years in Rochester. 

Tessa previously met Steve at an event where he was serving up his beer and she absolutely loved his product.  “Then we looked at what was missing in Rochester and asked what did we really like,” she explained.  Tessa was passionate about wine.  Sontes was her “first baby”.  But when looking at Sontes’ business model, she realized the opportunity to really engage the local community and grow with Sontes was limited.

"Wine in the Midwest doesn't really scream camaraderie like it does in California, because we don't yet have that sense of wine culture, yet.  Wine is not a known commodity like beer in the Midwest.  But beer, it really is part of our Midwestern collective memories and consciousness."

Adding a community-focused piece was important for Tessa in this phase of her career as a food and beverage innovator.  While growing up in Stewartville, one of her favorite jobs was working at this local pizza place, a restaurant that was really inclusive and drew in everybody from the community.

“And it was the best pizza ever.  I’m not going to lie. …The whole town stood behind that.  The whole town got it.  The whole town was proud of that,” she said.

“I think in any business, and especially small business, I think involving the community and the local people, that’s what makes your business your business.  And that’s what makes your business really cool. …And it’s nice for Rochester people to say, ‘This is our beer.  We have this,’” Tessa explained.  

Even the Grand Rounds name is rooted in connectivity and community.  Grand rounds are part of the medical education process where physicians, students, and residents come together to talk about problems and to learn.  Gathering around the table over some beers at the end of the day is just an extension of this process. 

“What do people do when you get together and drink a pint?  You talk about problems.  You try to figure things out.  It’s kind of a grand round.”

The name Grand Rounds is a nod to Rochester’s past, but it also acknowledges Rochester’s future.  A future beyond these medical ties.  A future in entrepreneurship.  A future in beer.

The craft beer scene in Minnesota is one of the best in the country.  Minnesota has 105 craft breweries, or about 2.7 breweries per 100,000 people 21 years of age or older, according to the Brewers Association.  The beer scene in Rochester is starting to grow.  Kinney Creek set the pace, becoming the first brewery to open in Rochester since prohibition. 

“Rochester’s really starting to get this massive education on food and wine and beer and entrepreneurship.  Things aren’t what they were ten years ago.  And that’s good.  That’s really good,” said Tessa.

Now we have Kinney Creek Brewery, Grand Rounds Brew Pub, Forager Brewery, and LTS Brewing Company.  People are starting to take notice of our Rochester beers and breweries.  You don’t need to trek to the Twin Cities any more for a good, local craft beer.

“I’m so hopeful that this city becomes more like you see in Minneapolis or what you see in Portland or Seattle or Sonoma.  It’s a city that embraces that you have quality products and quality chefs and quality producers here and that Rochester does have a lot to offer,” Tessa explained.

Rochester has brewers making some phenomenal, award-winning beers from locally sourced ingredients.  As residents of this city, we’re starting to work through our beer primer and finally understand the difference between a brewery and a brew pub.  Our brewers are creating some innovative products.  Grand Rounds themselves just brewed their 100th batch of beer last month.  That’s 1400 kegs of beer. 

As a southeastern Minnesota born and bred girl, Tessa loves Rochester and the talent held within.  With all the changes happening in the community, Rochester is becoming an entrepreneurial hot spot in Minnesota and more and more people are finally starting to take risks

“I was the only one by myself for a quite some time that was doing something so different that it felt pretty lonely at times.  I really don't feel alone anymore.  It is nice be amongst fellow adventurers in the community, that are inspiring me!”

Mobile Food Units are now in Downtown Rochester- but does the Ordinance Stifle Food Entrepreneurship?

The welcoming of food trucks, or “mobile food units”, onto public property in downtown Rochester has been for many a slow, hair wrenching process.  Motorized or trailered movable food units are finally allowed in specific public zones in the downtown area.  But don’t expect to see large contingents of food trucks springing up in Rochester any time soon.

Most of us in Rochester-land know how this story began.  Last June, the very first food truck to operate in downtown Rochester, BB’s Pizzaria, was told they could not serve food in the Calvary Episcopal Church driveway because the drive was actually a public space.  A food truck operating in this region was against city ordinance.  Some downtown brick and mortar restaurants were outraged by the presence of the food truck, saying it was unfair competition.  Some members of the public were equally enraged because they just wanted new, affordable food options in the downtown area.

Fast forward to May 2016.  A revised ordinance permitting mobile food units in downtown Rochester was passed by the City Council, only to be vetoed by Rochester Mayor Brede on the grounds that the proposed tiered-fee structure was unfair to the more traditional downtown restaurant options.  Finally, in June yet another revised ordinance was passed allowing mobile food units in downtown under certain restrictions.

No matter where you stand on the issue, we all just want quality, affordable food options in Rochester. 

New Rochester city ordinance- 143A to be exact- permits food trucks in designated “mobile food unit zones” in the downtown area.  This includes space along 2nd Avenue SW during lunch hours, near Central Park and the Rochester Public Library during normal business hours, and along 2nd Street SW late in the evening.  All food trucks must cease operations by 1 AM.  Outside of downtown, food trucks can’t park within 150 feet from a restaurant property line.

To run a mobile food unit in downtown Rochester, operators have to shell out a $150 license fee plus a $1100 franchise fee, a total of $1250 in costs.  That doesn’t sound too steep at first glance.  But compared to the $818 fee in Minneapolis, it’s pretty high.

The first food truck in downtown Rochester, Back Alley Kitchen, rolled out on June 22nd alongside the Stabile building.  But that might be it for a long time.

Besides Back Alley Kitchen, “I don’t foresee anybody else outside of maybe one other getting the application to apply for this.  It’s just, it’s just too expensive,” explained Derrick Chapman, owner of the Twisted Barrel Wood Fired Pizza food truck.

“I think they had an opportunity to just look at what Minneapolis is doing and basically just mimic it. …I think I’m hopeful that maybe they’ll reevaluate it and look at it and say, ‘Maybe there are some things that we could have done better?’  But, no, like I said, I’m hopeful if that happens but I’m not crossing my fingers,” Derrick continued.

Mobile food units are a bit like homeless wanderers.  It sounds a little bit sexy and whimsical to drive your food truck from town to town, shoot the breeze with people on the street, and be in a new location every day.  But in reality, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.

The season lasts only a few months for food trucks, maybe from April to October in Minnesota if you’re lucky.  Even inside that timeframe, the weather has to be just right.  If it’s too windy, people won’t come out.  If it’s raining, people won’t come out.  If it’s too hot, people won’t come out.  You need a real contingent of food trucks all lining up in one place to really drive in business, otherwise people just don’t know where to find you on a regular basis.  Plus, you have a limited menu, limited operating space, and have to work at warp speeds.

Besides that, food trucks have to educate the consumer.  People have to realize that “it’s not five-dollar fair food.  And you’re actually getting a decent sandwich for eight dollars. …I think that’s the other thing that they’re challenging, is they can make a phenomenal food product, but getting people onboard to thinking about it is a little challenging,” explained Donovan Seitz, owner of Kinney Creek Brewery.

Food truck entrepreneurship has really been stifled in Rochester and the movement has been slow to take off.  It’s a huge risk that not many people have been able to take.

One place that has been fruitful for Rochester’s food trucks are the local breweries. 

“If you kind of look across the United States, breweries and food trucks pair well together because production breweries can’t have, typically, can’t have food a lot like the brewpubs can.  So it kind of marries a food option with a beer option,” said Donovan.

Kinney Creek has welcomed The Twisted Barrel and other food trucks to serve up some fresh food finds in the brewery parking lot since their opening.  But because food trucks as a whole have not yet gained momentum in Rochester, people don’t quite rely on their presence at the breweries yet, even on the weekends.  But, the food trucks “bring another element to Rochester.  The fresh, the new inspired cook that wants to do something different.  That’s what Rochester I don’t know necessarily needs, but I think it definitely has a thirst for it,” said Donovan.

Besides operating at breweries, Rochester food trucks have survived through catering, private parties, farmers’ markets and festivals like Rochesterfest where customers know they’ll be in one spot for an entire week.  The Twisted Barrel posts their locations every week on Facebook.

“I still think there are a fair number of restaurants out there that still think [the food truck operating fees are] too cheap because they have to pay to maintain sidewalks and they have property taxes.  But if given the opportunity, I would prefer to have a permanent location over being mobile and having a limited menu and no seating and being seasonal.  To me, that’s a fair trade off.  I would take on those expenses if I were able to,” said Derrick.

The food trucks aren’t trying to compete with downtown restaurants, Derrick affirmed.  They are just trying to provide a service that people want.

“We should all collaborate.  There’s no reason we should be fighting each other.  If somebody’s got a great product, why shouldn’t I encourage them to bring it to market?  Because guess what?  I’m going to spend my money with you if you have a good product that I don’t have in town because they’re keeping it local.  And the more money that stays in our local economy the better,” said Derrick.

We’re hopeful for the emergence of the food truck entrepreneur in Rochester.  Those people willing to take the risk that have previous restaurant experience.  Diversity and innovation has to be healthy for an ecosystem.

“If there’s people out there that are considering it, don’t let the ordinance scare you.  There are other ways you can make it work. …People need to take a chance on something.  With no risk, there’s no reward,” Derrick summed up.