Meet Kim Bartmann
The restaurateur opens up about her enormous success.
Kim Bartmann is a James Beard-nominated restaurateur currently running seven different establishments. Her restaurants include Bryant-Lake Bowl and Theater, Pat’s Tap, Red Stag Supperclub, Tiny Diner, Barbette, Bread and Pickle, and the Third Bird. A pioneer in opening restaurants with a focus on sustainability, Bartmann’s restaurants are successful at bringing a mid-priced, neighborhood feel to the greater Twin Cities community.
What would you describe as the greatest highlights of your career?
(I’m) going up on 25 years in February, so I guess all the talented people I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years—not just with the restaurants, but professionals and chefs, architects and designers, activists, theater people—that’d be a lot of highlights there. And then probably doing the first LEED-certified restaurant in Minnesota, that’s a big highlight. Being nominated for the James Beard Award and being a semi-finalist a couple times. Probably lifting the solar array onto its structure at Tiny Diner is one of the biggest highlights of my career for me, personally.
Each restaurant has its own distinct feature. Red Stag Supperclub is the first LEED-certified restaurant in Minnesota and Tiny Diner has its own permaculture farm. Do you favor a restaurant or feature?
Probably the Tiny Diner with its garden and solar array. It’s what I feel is my biggest piece of work to date. We are going beyond LEED there and into generating some of our own energy. And then we’re exploring growing our own food with the gardens there and the other gardens Tiny Diner is associated with. That is what I am most proud of so far.
You’re originally from Wisconsin. What is it about the Twin Cities that makes you call this place home?
I came here for the second half of college, and when I needed to get a job I became a cook, so that’s how I started working in restaurants. The opportunities for relocating a restaurant career are not very abundant. And Minneapolis is close to Wisconsin and my family, and it’s a wonderful city to live in. We have one of the most highly educated cities per capita in America. We have more theater seats per capita than any other city in America (besides New York City). The restaurant scene here continues to get better and the bar continues to be raised. Minneapolis has weathered some pretty severe economic downturns in the last 20 years, both very well. So here I am doing more projects.
You’ve had a lot of success and accumulated awards such as being named a finalist for Entrepreneur Of The Year 2015 in the Upper Midwest and nominated for the James Beard Award. Were these goals you had in mind at the beginning of your career?
I’m not very driven by that kind of stuff. I’m just truly driven by wanting to create experiences—honestly, that I (would) want to experience. I wanted to have a Wisconsin-style fish fry, so I built a supper club and then that became LEED-certified. I wanted to have a place where you could get craft beer and wine in an affordable atmosphere, not a fancy restaurant, and that is what became Bryant-Lake Bowl. With Tiny Diner, I wanted to explore this idea with food production and agriculture. So that’s what’s happening there. I’m just really driven by place-making.
You recently helped out the Bedlam Theater, which has been described as a sibling theater to Bryant-Lake Bowl. Why is it important for you to support other venues in the community?
Our community is where I live, so I want to support the arts, the theater and social justice issues as much as I possibly can from my perspective as a businessperson. I think it’s important to give back to your community wherever you can. And by the same token, that’s why we try to buy from local farmers, use local breweries, local distillers, because that money goes back into our local economy.
How do you select locations for your restaurants and is there a theme, if any, that you try to incorporate into all of them?
I really only stumbled upon any location I had. Someone told me, “You should see this vacant, dead building that nobody wants and maybe you could do something there.” We are triple-bottom-line driven. We try to operate the business with a set of values around sustainability with how employees are treated. We’re into this old-fashioned idea that restaurants are about food and we want the food to be good. Otherwise, they’re all thematically different.
How do you decide what the community needs from your restaurants? Selecting menus, for example?
I do create spaces, but those creations come from not just the physical space I’m given, although that’s really important, but also the sense of the neighborhood and my own intuitive level of what is this neighborhood. I have conversations with people in the neighborhood and I go to neighborhood meetings before I really get going. Bread and Pickle, which is a concession (stand) on Lake Harriet in relationship with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, is the product of months of community surveys, the neighborhood, and the users of the parks and what they wanted to happen there. They wanted to get rid of plastic bottles in the park. So instead of selling plastic bottles of water, which are getting thrown into the lake, we found a source of BPA-free stainless steel bottles, which we sell for the same price (that) plastic bottles of water were being sold for, and people can fill them with Minneapolis tap water and they have a souvenir. We’ve eliminated what I think are 100,000 water bottles from potentially being litter or landfill in the park. There’s a lot of opportunity in restaurant operations to do things better, and that’s probably what I love about this business is that there’s always something that you can do better and change on every level, from product, operation and design. It keeps me busy.
Any memories in particular that truly stand out?
The most fun is the Coen brothers did their wrap party for the movie “Fargo” at Bryant-Lake Bowl. After their film was made, they had that wrap party and then they made the “Big Lebowski”—I’m just saying. And it does say, “Tonight We Bowl” in my logo, and that line was used in the “Big Lebowski,” which was made after they had their wrap party at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.
My Twin Cities
Sometimes I wake up way too early—5 a.m. is obscene to me. Although I hear many people do that regularly, I don’t get it. I’ll pick up a book and read until I fall back to sleep; right now that’s probably the Inspector Anita Sundström mystery series or the random awesomeness of Medium.
I’m very spoiled by the best coffee in the world, but I’m trying to quit and go back to matcha in the morning. Lately my partner and I are doing a couple Midi crosswords on the iPad to start the day.
If I’m working in my office above Barbette, I usually have what they call a Kim Salad with dill mustard vinaigrette, lots of veggies, some fancy cheese, some roasted chicken. If I’m off, I like to go to Jasmine Deli for noodle soup or Tao foods for a healthy rice and veggies plate.
We have so many opportunities to get outside in Minneapolis. I take advantage of that, usually with my dogs so they get an extra walk. I love going down to the dog park on the Mississippi.
Many of my nights are spent having dinner in one of my restaurants. I feel like I need to see how things are going and talk to customers. The Third Bird is my latest place, and I go there quite often—it’s my favorite menu at the moment. If I’m not doing that, I’d rather be home cooking some of the amazing locally farmed products we have available here, but if we’re feeling lazy you’ll find me at Terzo, Molly Broder’s latest place in south Minneapolis. The food is great and they’ve got an amazing selection, even for a wine bar. I figure it’s my job to get out there and try new wines.
Minneapolis is truly a place where you can kill your television. We have more theater seats than any other city in the United States (besides New York City). Plus we have an amazing modern dance scene here, a constantly exploding music scene, and a big indie film community too. There’s something fun or beautiful out there any night of the week.