( Courtesy Spoon and Stable/Libby Anderson )

The foodservice industry is thriving in the Twin Cities area, as is evident from the broad range of unique dining options, said Kris Kelsey O’Malley, director of marketing and communications for the St. Paul-based Minnesota Restaurant Association.

The dining scene includes “high-end chef-driven restaurants, fun and whimsical mash-ups with entertainment and a wide range of ethnic dining establishments,” she said.

She traces the region’s “foodie” revolution back as much as 25 years.

“Since then, the food scene has blossomed and continues to grow,” she said.

“The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul is a great place for supporting the restaurant chef ecosystem, where the established chefs serve as peer mentors for those newer to the industry,” she said.

The vibrant state of the foodservice industry in the Twin Cities is clearly reflected in the rise in foodservice business at Co-op Partners Warehouse in St. Paul.

Foodservice now accounts for 9% of sales, said Tom Rodmyre, warehouse director. 

That’s an increase of 4% over last year.

Remarkably, the increase came about without a real concerted effort.

“It just turned out that way,” he said.

Business picked up primarily by word of mouth, he said.

“It just fell in our lap.”

What’s equally noteworthy is that 90% of the produce Co-op Partners Warehouse sells is organically grown.

Restaurants and foodservice operations typically shy away from organic fruits and vegetables because of the higher cost compared to conventional, and because they need consistent availability, which can be difficult to guarantee with organic produce.

“They are locked into menus and locked into prices,” Rodmyre said.

But that’s not necessarily the case here.

“The Twin Cities market is pretty unusual,” Rodmyre said.

“In this market, there are lots of individual chefs that are running their restaurants, and basically they know what to do with small supplies of organics where the inventory (constantly) changes.”

It’s not unusual for a chef to feature an item for two weeks, and then it’s gone, he said.

“They basically know how to design their menu off of it,” he said.

Twin Cities restaurants also are known for their longevity, Rodmyre said.

The restaurant market typically turns over every 10 years or so by closing, changing chefs or changing locations, he said.

“This market has stayed pretty consistent for the last 10 years.”

The foodservice scene is very prominent in the Twin Cities area, echoed Nina Brooks Haag, senior director of marketing and R&D for H. Brooks & Co. LLC, New Brighton, Minn.

“It’s a foodie culture,” she said, and boasts of several up-and-coming chefs.

A number of James Beard award-winners and nominees come from the Twin Cities, she said, and many of the Twin Cities restaurants prominently feature fresh fruits and vegetables on their menus.

“A lot of the trends emerge out of foodservice,” she added.

She agreed that, unless restaurants specialize in organic offerings and make the category “part of their platform,” they tend to avoid organic produce because of the higher cost.

That’s not the case for locally grown fruits and vegetables, though.

“The local trend is very prominent in foodservice,” she said.

Minnesota has always had a strong ag-based economy, Kelsey O’Malley said.

“From our strong agriculture heritage, our area was supporting a farm-to-table focus in restaurants before this became a national trend,” she said.

Much of Minnesota’s farmland is near the Twin Cities, making access to fresh vegetables as well as meat, poultry and even wild game relatively easy for restaurateurs.

“Today, we see a number of veggie-based offerings, from appetizers — edamame, green beans, hummus — and the now very popular Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and squash, on menus,” she said.

A produce presence in foodservice also extends to schools, Kelsey O’Malley said.

“We have a number of colleges and universities that have long been supporting foodservice for students that include a wide range of dining options that cater to those on a variety of diets,” she said.

Many of these schools also support the sustainable trend by having their own gardens where vegetables may be grown and harvested for use by the school’s dining facilities. 

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