After starting off on a high note right out of the gate, Longfellow restaurant Parka appeared to lose steam over the past year and was getting some less than stellar feedback. Then, back in March, it was announced that not only was Erick Harcey completely out as executive chef at the restaurant, but also out entirely at Stock & Badge, his partnership with local roaster Dogwood Coffee and Rustica bakery, which runs Parka and recently opened Grain Stack, Half Pint, and a Dogwood Coffee Bar at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. So what happened? And what is happening at Parka these days?
Eater Minneapolis sat down with Stock & Badge's new food director, Sam Kanson-Benanav to find out what has been going on post-Harcey, what changes have been made, and what we can expect in the future.
Parka started off on a high note when it opened in early 2013 but then received negative feedback over the last year. What happened? I wasn't there during that time so I can't actually speak to any of the operational components of it, but I think that there was a loss of direction and vision. They were trying to execute a style of food that didn't fit the vibe, didn't fit the clientele. I think it was very ambitious. We reevaluated what this space was, what the neighborhood wants, and the kind of food that we want to execute.
So our idea here is to really leverage the assets we have as a company at Stock & Badge with Rustica Bakery and Dogwood Coffee being really strong components and offer food that works at any time of the day. You can come here for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or for happy hour. It is an accessible place that isn't geared toward entrees or three-course dinners anymore. We're not doing tweezer food anymore, we're not doing foams anymore, we're using intentionally sourced ingredients and we're creating fun, vibrant dishes that people want to eat at any time of day.
So the decline of Parka was because of the food and accessibility and not because of the people who were in place here? I actually came in here before I started the job to understand what this place was. It was a little confusing to me because the menu was coursed out and seemed to be geared toward dinner. I think it started on high note with very intentional, very meticulous dishes which isn't something that can work at all times of the day, at all times of the year, especially in a space like this. I think it created a lot of confusion and they lost clientele, they lost direction, and that degraded the final product. What Parka really needed was to reevaluate Parka as a space.
Are you finding it difficult to rebuild Parka's reputation? It is difficult since Parka has gone through a lot of changes but the changes we've made here are subtle and we've done them gradually. We wanted to ease our way through it. Because of that, it may not seem like Parka is an entirely new thing but it certainly is. It has been difficult to communicate how much it has changed but at the same time we've seen more people back in the space and we've heard the the feedback from our customers and our regulars. This new Parka is true to the space and to the original concept. Parka is a neighborhood spot that showcases Midwest ingredients in accessible ways. We're back there now. That's why we didn't change the name.
What have been the biggest challenges are during this transition? Communicating how much we've changed. I think a lot of people in the neighborhood never gave Parka another chance. We are really proud of what we've done here and we have a staff that is incredibly excited and engaged about the food. Communicating that to the neighborhood is definitely a challenge but we feel that we are offering better products and better food. We want to be part of the Longfellow neighborhood.
Chef Erick Harcey left Parka at the beginning of the year and then was out entirely at Stock & Badge. Was the split amicable? Yeah, he's at Victory 44 and doing the food he wants to do which is different than what Stock & Badge wants to do. He has his own projects, staff, and style of food. I never worked with him and I really don't know that story.
Who is currently the chef at Parka? How are you creating the new menu? Josh Wood is leading the kitchen staff—he's the chef. I will create a menu and a direction and I will source the ingredients and then Josh and I will work collaboratively. So if I come up with 60 percent of the dish, he'll sweep in and finish the other 40 percent, or vice versa. It is chef-driven in the most collaborative sense where we can work effectively together. We're trying to build a team here that has creative input. That is more sustainable as a business plan than a purely chef-driven hierarchy.
What new menu items/changes have been getting positive feedback so far? The salmon gravlax. We're curing the salmon and serving it with sprouted rye loaf from Rustica, with soft scrambled eggs, and smoked rainbow trout caviar. It is light and refreshing and an elevation of a brunch dish that you don't find at a lot of places, yet it is totally accessible. We're doing our own sausages—people are loving that. We've got our spring chicken which is a poussin that comes out of Nami Moon Farms—I'm just going to be honest here, you're not going to find a heritage half bird served with salami and ramp pesto for $15 anywhere else in the Cities. Plus, there is a $2 daily happy hour now, too.
There is a rumor that MIA forced Grain Stack to close for the summer because it had been getting negative feedback. Can you speak to that rumor? It's not true. We actually had great feedback. The summers are slower at the museum and there's definitely some refreshes that the museum wants to do in those spaces and now is a better time to do that. We are still serving food at Half Pint and Dogwood Coffee Bar but during the summer, while it is slower, we are working to activate that somewhat dated space on the third floor [Grain Stack]. MIA is one of the Cities' best assets and we had a lot of success during Matisse [exhibit].
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[Photo: Lindsay Abraham/EMPLS]