(Blogger’s Note: Every Friday an excerpt from the soon to be published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant appears in this space.)
After a few moments of polite culinary banter- Rob had recently purchased Stout´s Lodge, a historic Island Lodge on Cedar Lake in Wisconsin with local St. Paul entrepreneur, John Rupp- he told us why he wanted to speak to us: The Cottagewood Store was ruining his life.
An article on the new venture had appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the previous Sunday and because of that I knew Rob´s background with food.
He had moved to the Midwest from San Francisco. He was a preservationist of sorts, having done large projects in the past. And, he purchased and renovated the Cottagewood Store in Deephaven because he loved the property. He also had no idea about the food business.He did however, know good food.
His eyes widened when he saw the floor to ceiling shelves of Crocus Hill. He marveled at the retail section with its unique mix and presentation of antiques, reproductions and modern, commercial, culinary accessories.
The display cases filled the softball sized, over stuffed artichokes- bursting with breadcrumbs, olive oil, whole roasted garlic gloves and Italian sausage, lightly drizzled with rosemary olive oil dazzled him. His eyes danced around the store as though he had spotted his first love.
Apricot stuffed pork loin, sundried tomato meatloaf, fruited wild rice stuffed game hens, next to ten pound wheels of Stilton, Huntsman, and Imported Cotswold Cheddar Cheeses – in the land of Wisconsin Cheese Curds – plated next to platters of Chicken Chardrione, made a culinary statement that he hadn´t seen since he left San Francisco and New York.
When he said that our cases reminded him of Zabar´s I was almost as proud as when the article appeared in Time. And, I could sense the deal. I just didn´t know what it was.
Our lengthy conversation focused on our mutual enjoyment for revitalizing the old. He told us about his new project, Stout´s Lodge, and explained that he had recently completed a smaller project on Lake Minnetonka.
The Cottagewood Store. A tiny chip of culinary gem in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood of cottages turned mansions. Gulliver´s towered over Lilliputian sized homes as the wealthy made their mark on the waterfront. Summer cabins, often strewn with boats and bikes and old junkers that had seen one too many winters, or had not seen the hole in the ice, cluttered the lots that played host to visitors from the cities. But that was changing. Quickly, Rob saw this. He had vision. And, he bought the small store with wooden floors and worn screen doors.
The remodel was perfect as he explained it. Complete with a commercial kitchen- and an apartment upstairs it was the perfect place to live and work. The new look of the postage stamp sized pristine palace of palatable pleasures was fresh out of Country Journal. Ralph Lauren couldn´t have done a better job. It had been remodeled to appeal to the holding-heavy in the pocket set. The barn red exterior highlighted with the white trim and the green screen doors was an icon in the neighborhood. The welcoming center. The place to come to sit and talk and have coffee. No hot dogs and buns here. Bruce Aidells´ Chicken and Apple Sausage had nudged out the Brats from Wisconsin.
And, after a year of running it as an absentee owner he was searching, looking, begging for someone to take it off his hands. He had his first food ownership experience and it was choking his lifestyle. He needed to get out.
If it weren´t for Rob Dick, and his lovely wife Cathy, Kranston and I never would have had a career in food. The Crocus Hill Market was quickly tanking and the light at the end of that tunnel was rapidly losing wattage. But Rob´s deal was sweet.
He was willing to lease it or sell it, he just wanted out. The remodel on the store had taken almost three years. He was unhappy with his chef. His employee problems were killing him. The neighbors were opinionated on the stores product mix and the city was having a problem with the menu. Plus he did not want to operate a store or a restaurant or a culinary center. He had a comfortable life.
That sounded perfect to me. A cute store. A kitchen. And a bit of aggravation. The ingredients for a very interesting venture. We all agreed to think about the possible potential. And, Rob offered to take us through the store whenever we wanted if we had any interest. We exchanged handshakes, kudos and numbers.
I thanked Rob for considering us and told him that Kranston and I would talk it over but that we probably didn´t want to have to worry about two stores and that Deephaven was a bit further than we really wanted to drive. I told him that we would get back to him in a week or so if we had any interest but that it probably wasn’t for us.