The old timey clock still works. Years after traveling around, being stored by various family members, the clock that chef Gavin Kaysen's grandfather Ted used to use to punch in and out of work still functions. Yesterday, Kaysen's uncle stopped by the under-construction Merchant to survey the progress and pass along this family relic. As Kaysen constructs the restaurant he has long envisioned in Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood, he is surrounding himself with family, from the walls, where the clock will hang, to the menu. His brother is constructing tables. His mother is consulting with the design firm, Shea. However, it is his late-grandmother Dorothy, who first taught the young chef how to bake cookies, who may have the most influence.
At a recent dinner inside Kaysen's parent's home, after the dishes were cleared and bellies were happily filled, Kaysen's mother revealed a present for Merchant's pastry chef Diane Yang. She presented her with a small booklet of Grandma Dorothy's recipes. "Here," she said, holding the treasure trove of Norwegian cookies and Midwestern delicacies, "...if you'd like to bake any of Dorothy's dishes."
Dorothy was a lifelong St. Paul native. She and Ted raised four boys. (Honoring that St. Paul connection is what led Kaysen to Flat Earth Brewery.)
Inside every Merchant menu will be a special insert for Dorothy's Dinners. The menu, printed in Kaysen's own hand, will feature a seasonal, ever-evolving, family-style, three course dinner. "Say, if we were to run the menu tonight, at the end of tomato season," Kaysen said. "It would begin with a tomato and plum salad with goat cheese and basil served with a roasted leg of lamb. Or maybe it would be braised short ribs. Dessert would be a sundae or pie made in the style of home. Diane's take on that dish."
The menu was also inspired by the way Kaysen eats when he and his wife go out with friends. Everyone would look at the menu and then look to him to order for the crowd. "It's a fun way to eat," he said.
Ideally, Dorothy's Dinners will feed groups of anywhere from four to eight diners on large, antique, "grandma-gaudy" platters, Kaysen has been hoarding from antique stores around the Twin Cities area.
"It will be a beautiful, shareable feast," Kaysen said. Prices will be around $35-40 per person.
The specially roasted coffee blend that will be served and sold inside Merchant is also named for his grandmother, "Dorothy's Blend."
There are many connections at the restaurant, to her. On what would have been her birthday, October 6, the Merchant kitchen will be delivered and begin to be installed. The timing is fitting.
It was Christmastime, when he was seven years old, that Kaysen remembers his "ah-ha moment," standing before the stove with Dorothy. His brothers came in from the cold only to be assaulted by the sweet smells he and his grandmother had produced from a long day of baking. "The pure joy on their faces... I realized, this is how easy it is to make people happy?" A career of sharing joy through food was launched right there, buried in Minnesota snow, smelling of toasted sugar and cinnamon.