Young Joni has earned heaps of praise -- both local and national -- since opening late last year.
There’s just one tiny little problem: “That last project probably took nine years off my life,” chef Ann Kim tells us, laughing.
Running the acclaimed Hello Pizza and Pizzeria Lola had been demanding enough for Kim and husband and business partner Conrad Leifur. And when two became three? Lord. It was out of the frying pan, into the Le Panyol wood fired oven.
That's why, earlier this week, Kim announced that she was getting some help in the form of James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Bergland, who would join Vestalia Hospitality -- that’s the group she formed to oversee her three restaurants -- as culinary director.
Berglund, who had been with Bachelor Farmer for the entirety of the North Loop eatery's six-year run, left last month to pursue other opportunities. And Kim’s quick to clarify that his departure was self-motivated -- this isn’t a poaching thing. (Not that the chef isn’t a longtime fan of Kim’s: “He’s told us, point blank: Your restaurants are my favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities.")
The two have been friends and mutual admirers for years, and Kim describes Berglund as both immensely talented and extremely humble. “There’s some chefs that just kind of wear everything on their sleeve … Paul probably has more talent than most people are even aware of, he’s just really quiet about it," she says. "And that’s kind of rare to find.” More than that, the two share the same values, the same food philosophies. While she wasn’t looking for a culinary director when their friendship was forged, they started to realize it just made sense to work together in some capacity.
Meanwhile, the Vestalia Hospitality team had been asking some pretty big questions. Were they done with three restaurants? Would they continue to grow? And what would that growth look like? Kim was burnt out on the business end, and she realized that to stay relevant not just now, but 15 years from now, she’d need more than one culinary head helping out.
But she’s particular, and she wanted -- quite frankly -- someone who was talented enough to open a restaurant of their own.
“I want to create a strong organization, and that means hiring people that are talented, people that are smarter,” she says. “That’s how I feel like we’re going to continue to be one of the best restaurant groups in the city and even in the country.”
Of Berglund, she adds: “We really believe in him, and we really trust each other. There’s not a lot of people in this town that I would trust with this.”
Still, the decision to bring him on board has City Pages staffers wondering: Might there be another restaurant on the way sometime soon?
“We’re going to take our time, but we certainly have ideas,” Kim says. For now, though, she insists that she’s focused on getting everything in place to ensure that her existing eateries are operating at their best while keeping their vision intact -- not just for the first few weeks or months, but for the long haul.
“And then, there’s no other choice but to say, ‘Hey, we’re bored. We’ve got people. We’ve got ideas. Let’s grow.’”