For someone who has spent more than 20 years creating popular Minneapolis eateries including Café Barbette, Bryant-Lake Bowl and Red Stag Supper Club—all people-packed environments--it might be surprising to learn St. Louis Park resident Kim Bartmann counts as one of her all-time favorite jobs a stint as a parking lot attendant, tucked into a solitary booth, while attending the University of Minnesota.
Another interesting career fact: When she first started in the restaurant business as a cook in the early 1980s (“I would never say I was a chef”), she disliked the job so much, she vowed she’d never work in a kitchen again.
Bartmann, originally from Wisconsin, is now one of the Twin Cities’ top restaurateurs, with approximately 300 employees representing “a broad perspective of personalities and ages,” she says; and although she’s not working in the kitchens of her restaurants, she is perpetually active behind the scenes, especially now as she preps for the launch of the Tiny Diner, her newest venture located in South Minneapolis’s Powderhorn Park neighborhood.
In addition to what Bartmann calls “classic diner food, re-imagined for more contemporary palates,” Tiny Diner is also reimagining a more energy-efficient restaurant model. The site will be home to two buildings—the diner itself, less than 2,000 square feet, and the adjacent dedicated solar structure, complete with 22 kilowatts of solar panels in 1,800 square feet of space, surrounded by gardens designed by the Permaculture Research Institute–Cold Climate. (A sister garden in the Longfellow neighborhood provides produce for Bartmann’s restaurants).
“Kim’s vision for the Tiny Diner extends far beyond any typical green-washed trend to build a ‘sustainable’ restaurant,” says Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen of the Permaculture Research Institute and urban farm manager and community outreach coordinator for the Tiny Diner. “The holistic, physical and social designs delve into the idea that our true wealth—biodiversity—appreciates if invested in; this includes soil, plants and people.”
The Tiny Diner will also include an educational component; plans call for classes to be offered on of urban agriculture at the demonstration gardens.
Bartmann’s passion for sustainability is also evident at Red Stag, which opened in 2007 as the first LEED-certified restaurant in Minnesota, and Bread & Pickle at Lake Harriet, which opened in 2011 and is committed to recycling and composting.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we figured out how not to serve plastic bottles,” says Bartmann, adding that the locally sourced food stand’s stainless steel water bottles have become a popular item with tourists. “We have what I’ve called a ‘mom program.’ We have had college kid employees who go back to school, so their moms have taken their place through the fall,” Bartmann says.
Bartmann’s own family is an integral part of the business. Her sister Kari is part of the management team at Bryant-Lake Bowl and among other talents, is “an expert at fixing the 1956 pin-setter,” says Bartmann. Pat’s Tap is named for their mom, who is depicted on the restaurant menu, along with words of wisdom, such as “a few French fries dragged through mayonnaise won’t kill you.”
While all of Bartmann’s restaurants are in Minneapolis, she says she loves living in St. Louis Park for many reasons (“I think the curbside composting program is amazing,” she says) and is a big fan of the Greenway trail. Although she has no plans to follow through on the idea now, Bartmann says she has spotted a place along the trail she thinks might be well-suited for a restaurant.
The Tiny Diner
1024 E. 38th St., Mpls.
Kim Bartmann’s It List
-The cheeseburger at Pat’s Tap, which she says “I fantasized about serving for two years” before it made the menu.
-Breakfast prepared for her by Gladys, a longtime cook at Bryant-Lake Bowl. “She knows her way around an egg,” Bartmann says.
-Favorite hash browns: a tie between Pat’s Tap and Red Stag.
-“My favorite person to ever come to Barbette was Bea Arthur,” says Bartmann of the Maude star.
-Twin Cities native Josh Hartnett is a regular at the restaurants.
-Bryant-Lake Bowl was the site of the Fargo wrap party. “Frances McDormand called to make the arrangements, but most of us didn’t know who she was,” says Bartmann, who thinks it’s an interesting coincidence the next movie the Coen brothers made after Fargo was The Big Lebowski, about a bowler (known as “the dude”).