Foodservice Operators Have Abundant Options For Buying Local
Gerhard Riautschnig is the bratwurst master behind Gerhard’s Brats.
Bratwursts and gelato; restaurant booths and compostable Champagne flutes. As sustainable sourcing and the “buy local” mindset continue to dominate the foodservice industry, this month we’re highlighting four very different companies that call Minnesota home.
“Friends Don’t Let Friends Put Ketchup On Brats.” So reads the back of a T-shirt from Gerhard’s Brats, and it’s a sentiment iterated by Gerhard Riautschnig, aka the “Wurstmacher.”
“You don’t want to destroy the flavor by putting on something so sweet,” explained Riautschnig. It’s a flavor that comes from Riautschnig’s family recipe, one he brought with him from Austria and is now using in his own line of bratwurst, made in small batches with natural casings and just four ingredients—natural pork, salt, garlic and pepper.
Gerhard’s Brats is in its fourth year, and after getting into co-ops, specialty stores and retailers throughout the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota, Riautschnig and co-founder Rob Lee have their sights set on the restaurant industry. Their brats—co-packed at Big Steer Meats in St. Paul—have been featured on menus at Birchwood Café and My Burger, and served by caterers such as Chowgirls, France 44 and Surdyk’s. Poised to benefit from the craft beer boom, Lee said consumers are hungry for food as “thoughtfully made” as their beer and willing to pay for it.
“We try to go where the beer and the beer drinkers are,” he said. “We’d love to see expansion into restaurants, especially to be on someone’s menu who has a really great beer program.”
Lee’s wife, Song Lee, who handles marketing for the company, noted the rising popularity of charcuterie boards on restaurant menus and said a product like Gerhard’s Brats, meant to be served sans bun, can be a profitable addition.
“If it’s in a bun or on a sandwich, people expect it to cost less,” said Song Lee “But if you plate it, you can charge more.”
Fully cooked, Gerhard’s Brats come in three varieties: original, smoked, and käsewurst (cheese brats with Emmenthaler Swiss cheese). A line of sauerkrauts is also in the works.
Using SelfEco caterware, Morrissey Hospitality serves a lobster appetizer.
As recycling mandates proliferate across the United States and customer expectations of sustainability rise, restaurant operators, caterers and other foodservice professionals are looking for alternative materials on which to serve their food.
It’s that market potential that prompted manufacturing veteran Danny Mishek to launch SelfEco, which produces commercially compostable caterware, cutlery and drinkware at its facility in Stillwater, Minnesota. Created by custom manufacturer VistaTek, of which Mishek is managing director, SelfEco uses plant-based material to make everything from Champagne flutes to custom-colored cutlery.
“I really want people to rethink green,” said Mishek. “The misconception is that you have to reduce the quality or the look. And that’s not the case with our product.”
SelfEco went through a seven-month certification process with the Biodegradable Products Institute to label its products as compostable—though Mishek said it still takes some convincing, as caterers are surprised to find such a high-quality product that is truly compostable.
“Our aim is to create a superior product,” said Mishek, noting SelfEco uses Ingeo Bioplastic, a food-safe polylactic acid derived from corn, switch grass and sugar beets, and made by Minnetonka-based NatureWorks. While SelfEco cutlery is slightly more expensive, its caterware line is competitive with petroleum-based products, Mishek said.
Last year Minneapolis passed its Green To Go ordinance requiring that to-go containers used for food and drinks must be recyclable or compostable, effectively banning the polystyrene material commonly known as Styrofoam. Minneapolis joined other major cities such as Portland, Seattle and Miami Beach that have enacted various regulations regarding the material, and nearby St. Louis Park has also passed a zero waste packaging ordinance.
“This trend really isn’t going away,” said Mishek. “We want to be the better alternative.”
Randy’s Booth Co.
Slice into the seat of one of Bert Kissoondath’s restaurant booths and you won’t find cheap springs or wire stretchers, but instead high-resiliency foam that translates into comfort for diners’ backs and bottoms.
It’s the higher standard Kissoondath is known for as his Randy’s Booth Co.–first started by Kissoondath’s father as Randy’s Restaurant Seating more than 30 years ago—builds booths, chairs, stools and tables from scratch at its northeast Minneapolis facility. Working with foodservice equipment suppliers such as The Yes Group and Hockenbergs, Kissoondath’s team specializes in customization using northern hardwoods—cherry, ash, oak, maple—and a virtually unlimited selection of vinyl, fabric, and leather.
“You bring us what you want and we build it from there,” he said. “Someone will say, ‘this is our space,’ and we can create a floorplan and work with them on seating size, spacing, traffic flow.”
Local projects range from restaurants such as Betty Danger’s Country Club and Public Kitchen to seating at all Lunds & Byerly’s grocery stores. Randy’s also makes seating and tables for national chains such as Redstone American Grill.
Churning out 20 to 30 orders each month—“We’ve been working overtime for three years”—Kissoondath said though the company could get bigger and relocate, he doesn’t plan on expanding his operation. “I want to stay this size. I want to stay in this neighborhood and stay local. I’m the owner, but I go on every install. It’s a customer service thing.”
Kissoondath sets the tone and encourages employees to take ownership of their work. He’ll even take his workers out to eat at customers’ restaurants “so they can see [their products] and take pride in something they’ve built.” Those employees get all the credit for the success of Randy’s, he continued.
“We’ve never missed a deadline—knock on wood.”
Two Gelato Guys
Darryl Buggs and Tom Paschke are the “guys” of Two Gelato Guys.
Inside City Food Studio in south Minneapolis, Tom Paschke is a master artisan. But instead of oil paints or metals, Paschke works in milk, eggs and sugar, the three ingredients that are the foundation for his gelato.
Paschke is one half of Two Gelato Guys, the wholesale gelato and sorbet company he launched with business partner Darryl Buggs. Now in their third production year, Paschke and Buggs are bringing the small-batch Italian treat—in flavors such as roasted almond, orange chocolate and pomegranate—to foodservice accounts across the state.
“Everyone that tries our gelato, we get the same response: They love it,” said Buggs.
Once the general manager of Caruso’s Gelato Café and later Jackson’s Coffee & Gelato, Paschke was making Italy’s version of ice cream long before starting Two Gelato Guys. And while authentic is the name of his game, “I never follow a basic recipe,” said Paschke. “I always tweak it a little bit or mix two different recipes. Our ability to create custom flavors is huge for restaurants.”
Using Schell’s Snowstorm brown ale, Paschke created a specialty gelato for Celts Craft House in Apple Valley; his salted caramel gelato and Chimney Sweep beer gelato (using another Schell’s brew) were hits at last year’s Minnesota Renaissance Festival. The company just closed a deal to produce co-branded gelato for Madelon Deming’s Sweet Joys Gelato carts.
“Tom has a unique talent because he not only makes the gelato, he does the development,” said Buggs. “I need to create a R&D department just for him.”
Able to scale up operations considerably at City Food Studio, Buggs and Paschke said they’re eager to partner directly with chefs to enhance their menus and increase restaurants’ bottom lines. “With our price point of what we’re selling to them, there’s opportunity there to turn around and really increase profits,” said Paschke.