J.D. Fratzke on Saint Dinette, River Culture, and Mixing Business with Friendship

Carpaccio at the Saint Dinette pop-up

Carpaccio at the Saint Dinette pop-up

The indomitable duo of a St. Paul prandial powerhouse is now officially a trio.

The Strip Club Meat & Fish manager, Tim Niver, and chef, J.D. Fratzke, have brought in a third partner, Brad Tetzloff, for their new venture, Saint Dinette. Tetzloff hopped behind the line about a year ago at the Strip Club, and now he's an equal-thirds stakeholder in the new restaurant, still in concept phase.

"He's got a successful background in small business," says Fratzke. "He's a great butcher and wants to be a restaurateur."

See also: Saint Dinette pop-up offers a sneak peek at Tim Niver and J.D. Fratzke's next venture

The trio recently agreed to build the new concept, Saint Dinette, from the ground up in the Rayette Lofts Building located less than a block away from the farmers market in Lowertown St. Paul. The lease is currently in negotiations with Sherman Properties, which still leaves significant variables yet to nail down.

"It's not anything contentious," says Fratzke of the pending lease agreement. "It's just details to work out, and it always happens this way."

Chef JD Fratzke

Chef JD Fratzke

The approximately 2,500-square foot property is nestled into the crook of East Fifth Street and Wall Street. Although plans for the total build-out are currently halted, the partners have a clear vision for the space from design and layout to its French-influenced "river culture" menu.

The name Saint Dinette attests to Niver, Fratzke, and Tetzloff's deep-rooted love for St. Paul. The word dinette is of North American origin and hints at the concept's informal vibe, which seeks to "keep it real, keep it honest, and keep it hearty."

Hot Dish: You've landed on French-influenced, "river culture" fare. How did you come to that?

J.D. Fratzke: St. Paul is about 400 miles from the geographical center of the continent. Wherever the French have landed through North America, they've left a huge mark on the culture of food and how people live their lives, from Montreal to Mexico. New Orleans is an example of this influence at the end of my river. I live where it begins. They live where it ends. I grew up in Winona with a river culture. On the Mississippi we celebrate life with friends, food, music, and art. Passion is a huge way of life.

Tim is a buddy of yours. How do you two balance work and friendship?

When Tim presented this opportunity to go into business with him with the Strip Club, I hesitated because I didn't want our friendship to be lost through the business side of things. We get through it by being really honest with one another. We talk about our kids, our marriages, what we like or don't like about the food, how guests are treated... It's rare that there are ever any surprises between the two of us. We are constantly talking about ideas. And there is a continual roundtable at the Strip Club about how we want our restaurant to and look and taste.

Who would you list as a few of your early influences in the culinary world?

I grew up with a hunting and fishing family, and that taught me to be mindful of local sustainability. Lenny Russo has helped me out in a hundred ways. He's been a friend. He constantly challenges me to cook better when I see the food that his place is putting out. No one else has more integrity than that guy...from the way he cooks his food to the way he runs his business. If I want to make anybody proud to be my friend, it's Lenny Russo.

How does Russo feel about Saint Dinette opening less than a block away from Heartland?

He's already called me a few times to say, "Hey, welcome to the neighborhood, hot shot."

Saint Dinette is slated to open February-ish of 2015.

Saint Dinette 280 E. 5th St., St Paul 651-800-1415 @SaintDinette

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