In nearly eight years of being open, I’ve never heard the story go like this…

“Yeah, I was hungry and I wandered into your place and ate, got fully and left. Thanks!”

Instead, the story usually goes more like this…

“My son and I stop in your place before every home football game and get a cinnamon roll together.  We’ve been doing it for years and he moves off to college next year and we both say how we will miss that tradition.”

Or,

“My wife and I had our first date at your place four years ago and it’s our special place to return to for conversation.

Or,

We were in town for a wedding and found your place on Sunday morning.  The family had to leave that afternoon to go their separate ways and we had such a special Brunch together that day as we prepared to say our goodbyes.”

I give these examples because I firmly believe that I am not merely in the food business selling fare to fill the belly. Instead I am also in the business of building connection to fill the community.

Great food cities aren’t just about the food; they are about places to connect.

Karen and I like to take a “Food Vacation” every year.  We pick a city that interests us and spend a few days exploring the food scene and learning about the food culture that has developed there.  This May we took a trip to Minneapolis and discovered my theory was being proven true.  Of the dozen places we visited, all were recommended by locals as being their favorites.  And while, yes, the food at every location was outstanding, the vibrancy of the establishment came from the buzz and chatter of conversation, of people conversing and connecting, making it a place to which we eventually wanted to return. (note: I noticed a lack of televisions at many of these places)

victory 44
Ryan Koller and staff at Victory 44, which gets is name from the Victory neighborhood in which it is situated, along 44th Street

Owners there told us that the rapid development in their food culture has come in the last five years.  People are moving back into the area for work or because they spent years away and wanted to return to their roots and heritage.  One proprietor said what is making Minneapolis attractive to these folks are not multiple options to eat but places that felt like home.  I affirmed his assessment from my personal experience.  Even though I was only on vacation, I felt welcomed and drawn in.

butcher and the boar
Jerald Hansen with The Butcher and The Boar. Great food, service and no TV’s

I can see little seeds of effort beginning to germinate in our city.  Start with the recent growth in our craft beer community and what is happening because of ZipLIne, Blue Blood, Ploughshares and Modern Monks, and others rumored to be getting into the game.  Angela Garbacz opened the lovely Goldenrod Pastries and has converted me to a true believer that gluten-free baking can be both high quality and delicious.  Henry’s on South has provided their neighborhood with a connecting hub as has Honest Abe’s in the northeast side Meadowlane neighborhood.  Up in Fallbrook, Toast had the vision early on to lay the foundation for that area with their eatery before the surrounding houses sprang up. And this fall, our Piedmont Bistro will be aimed at bringing the Piedmont residents a place to connect with their friends and neighbors.

As with any seed, germination is the unseen, underground work that takes place to begin setting the roots in place and sending up the stalk that is visible and fruit bearing.  Our soil is fertile, with new growth and development, new tech startups, more young professionals moving into the city, and empty nesters downsizing and moving downtown.  We need more food entreprenuers dropping seeds in this soil

All this is why we are excited about our next restaurant project and why I hope more aspiring locals will throw their hat in the ring.  I believe we have been given a chance to do something both fun and rewarding.  I hope we can look back in five years and have the same assessment as my new friends in Minneapolis did.

And we’ll never know till we try.

Why Lincoln could become the next great food city.