Last week, Food & Wine announced this year’s Best New Chefs. Among them, Twin Cities’ own Jim Christiansen. It’s no surprise Christiansen made the list. He’s cooked everywhere form La Belle Vie to Copenhagen’s Noma, with loads of great Minneapolis restaurants sprinkled throughout. But he’s truly hit his stride at Heyday, a vibrant and deeply personal Lyn-Lake restaurant. This month marks Heyday’s first anniversary. "I can’t believe it’s been a year," says Christiansen. "It feels like a week has gone by."
Like many young chefs, Christiansen always dreamed of opening his own place. "A lot of people say, ‘I want to own my own restaurant,’ " he says. "But I don’t think people understand what they’re getting into. I for sure didn’t." While Christiansen helmed the kitchen at Sea Change, he and front of house stalwart Lorin Zinter talked about opening a place together. Heyday didn’t happen until years later. "People have no idea what goes in to finding the perfect location at the right price point."
If it comes to a point where I can’t run a restaurant like this, I’ll switch careers.
It’s hard to believe Heyday now occupies the space once inhabited by Sunnyside Up Café ("We tried to save some of it, but it was totally dilapidated," says Christiansen) and a laundromat. They gutted everything, bedecking the space with reclaimed wood, a marble bar and original, oversized pieces from Minneapolis artist Terrence Payne (tip: get up close and personal with those painting and you’ll realize they aren’t paintings, they’re crayon drawings!). Huge windows drench the space with sunlight at brunch, and showcase the always-interesting happenings along Lyndale. Of all the things in this beautiful space, Christiansen loves the open kitchen most. He can literally see every table in the restaurant. "I love the size of this place," he says ."I love being able to see people and talk to guests. That is so important to me. And if it comes to a point where I can’t run a restaurant like this, I’ll switch careers."
Looking back at Heyday’s first year in business, it’s apparent why Christiansen landed in Food & Wine’s 10 Best New Chefs. Heyday operates with the same philosophy on day 365 as it did on day one. He’s committed to his vision: fine dining caliber food, served in a casual atmosphere. "I’ve eaten at three-star Michelin restaurants," says Christiansen. "I love that, but I was never really comfortable… I never felt like I couldn’t breathe and just relax and maybe pick my nose or say fuck."
I’ve eaten at three-star Michelin restaurants. I love that, but I was never really comfortable
As for the food, he’s not one to take the easy road, and it shows. Before opening Heyday, Christiansen decided to forgo using mainline food companies for sourcing ingredients. "People said, ‘No you have to, because it’s the only way to make money these days," says Christiansen. "But [I didn’t want to get] all of the same ingredients as every other every other restaurant in town." Instead, he looks to smaller distributors who represent organic farmers. "I’m super proud that we stuck to our guns," says Christiansen. "It’s a lot more work. You need more phone numbers up your sleeve. And sometimes you just can’t get certain things. But you work with it. You learn and adapt."
Though Christiansen says he’s tightened up the menu, his style hasn’t changed. "I always cook a little lighter," he says. "I like acid, herbs and freshness. When I go out, I want to eat a lot and not feel terrible." Aside from absolutely delicious breads served at the beginning of a meal, you might eat an entire meal at Heyday without noticing Christiansen rarely serves anything fried or carb-laden. His thought? People only need a dose of sugar and carbs at the beginning of a meal to feel satiated. "That’s my theory on it," says Christiansen. "So far, it’s worked. Nobody has ever asked, ‘Where are your French fries?' I’ve literally never been asked that question, which is crazy to me."
In fact, aside from canning their late night menu (Christiansen said selling 10 plates on a Friday or Saturday night simply didn’t make sense) and adding a weekend brunch, the front of the house is the only notable difference at 27th and Lyndale. Zinter left Heyday to pursue an opportunity at soon-to-open Italian eatery, Il Foro. "Lorin’s energy and knowledge is just so high," says Christiansen. "He has a lot of experience, knows the service industry and a lot of people in town. It’s hard to replace that. It was amicable and I wish him the best of luck with everything." Christiansen looked to Heyday wine director Dani Meagers to fill Zinter’s shoes. Christiansen had no doubt she was the perfect replacement. "[Dani] is one of those friends I know and trust, and she’s done so well."
Christiansen says surrounding himself with people like Meagers is key to Heyday’s success. "I wanted a restaurant with a really great team, where people like being at work," says Christiansen. "We all work well together and the guest see that. That’s what I’m most proud of [with Heyday]. I love being here… I love who I work with. And that’s important because you make better food and you give better service when you’re happy."
So, what’s next for Christiansen? Don’t expect him to open another restaurant or launch a television career. He’s focused on the little details that will make Heyday ever better—like landscaping, putting a patio together and building a rooftop garden. "It’s hard. Little things take so much energy and thought. It’s hard to do everything at once."
Heyday is planning for anniversary festivities, but nothing has yet been announced. Stay tuned for details.
--by Molly Mogren