Hangin’ With Klecko: Imagination and Execution Collide at Eggy’s
It was cold, it was early and I was hungry for more than the yogurt and berries my refrigerator offered. So I grabbed my car keys and made my way out the door. I was just about to set my course to one of my favorite Capital City breakfast destinations, until I remembered I had been meaning to check out Eggy’s Diner.
While my vehicle warmed up, I Googled the address and realized Eggy’s was located somewhere between Loring Park and the Minneapolis Convention Center. I hate crossing the ocean, especially just to get breakfast, but I’d been hearing good things about this place so I decided to brave the elements and be adventurous.
When I entered the café, I was greeted by Paula McLean, a friendly woman who turned out to be the GM. When I mentioned to her that my coworkers had been here earlier in the week to sample the green eggs and ham, and loved it, you should have seen her smile of satisfaction.
Although the joint was hopping, the place was well staffed, so I convinced Paula to join me for a couple of minutes.
General Manager Paula McLean (right) laughs over breakfast with server Stephanie McAlpin at Eggy’s Diner, which opened last fall in the LPM Apartment building near Loring Park in Minneapolis.
Before our conversation started, my new friend handed me a glass of orange juice with a look like she was daring me to drink it. From the way she was grinning I thought for a second it might be spiked, but as I took my first sip, I was overwhelmed—I’d never had a glass of juice with that much flavor. Later I would find out 12 oranges were squeezed for that single glass.
When I confessed how I thought she might have handed me a screwdriver, Paula smiled and said if we were going to commit to morning cocktails, she’d start me off with Eggy’s signature bacon-infused Bloody Mary.
In my line of work I have to meet new people every day, and truth be told sometimes that can become a bit of a grind. But after two minutes with Paula, I realized it was a special day because I was in the presence of one of the most likable people I’ve met. Every time the door opened and hungry diners filed in, without exception they came over to our table to greet their host before beginning their dining experience.
During a rare moment when we were left alone, I asked Paula how somebody so dynamic had been able to stay off my radar. I suggested that she had to be from out of town and it turns out I was right. Montana’s loss will now be the Twin Cities’ gain.
Paula said she had 30 years of chef experience under her belt and had been thinking about shifting to front-of-the-house duties, but she didn’t want to do it until she found a menu that people would have fun eating.
Eventually she found Chicago-based Eggy’s Diner, a concept that shuns formality. These people are all about urban comfort food. Knowing the café had recently opened, I was about to ask if everyone was pleased with the volume of business thus far, but then a young server passed by with a plate containing something I couldn’t identify. When I asked what it was, Paula asked the young woman to grab a small plate of the same menu item so I could sample it.
When the waitress returned she told me her name was Stephanie McAlpin and the dish I was examining was one of the clientele’s favorites, Nutella crepes. After taking a small bite, Stephanie could see how impressed I was and I got a sense that, like Paula, it meant everything to her for customers to go away more than contented; she wanted everyone to know this was a destination experience. Not wanting to be rude, I offered her a portion of the Nutella crepe and for a fleeting moment she looked perplexed.
“I probably shouldn’t, you know. I need to be able to fit into my wedding dress pretty soon.”
But then she giggled and took a bite, which made me like her all the more.
As customers kept coming in, I watched works of art pass me. Items such as cinnamon roll pancakes, caramel apple pecan waffles, Spanish omelets chock-full of chorizo, and plates covered with mounds of breakfast poutine the size of your head.
When it came time for me to order, I followed my colleagues’ recommendation and got the green eggs and ham, not even knowing what that meant. But by now these folks had my trust. So while I waited for breakfast, I returned to my earlier thought and asked Paula how business was overall.
“When you are a breakfast restaurant, you have to really suck to not pull strong weekend numbers. For us the challenge will be to find innovative ways to keep every chair filled during the weekdays. I’m doing my best to make sure everybody who eats here knows about some of our extra perks. Things like 90 minutes of free ramp parking, or the fact that we don’t impose a splitting fee. I’m adamant that my staff remembers people are starting their day off here and how we treat them will set the tone for the rest of their day. I’m sorry to say I’ve already had to let a few employees go for not being friendly enough.”
I’m sure Paula said other insightful things, but all of a sudden Stephanie, the bride-to-be, placed a plate in front of me. It was then that I realized green eggs and ham were eggs, house-made tomatillo salsa, ham, avocado, pickled onions and queso fresco strategically placed over a pile of grits.
Even before I took my second bite, I knew this place was worth crossing the ocean for. I know a columnist’s job is to make the people and the places in their story seem appealing, but I’m telling you guys on my honor, I can’t remember the last time I saw imagination and execution collide this hard on a breakfast menu.
Dan “Klecko” McGleno is the CEO at Saint Agnes Baking Company in St Paul and can be reached electronically at email@example.com, at the office at 651-290-7633, or on his cellular device at 651-329-4321.