“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.