How Jared Brewington Got So Funky
Jared Brewington jumped in at the cash register with staff for opening day at Funky Grits, the new restaurant on the corner of 38th St. and Chicago in Minneapolis.
If the sheer force of a personality can make a restaurant work in this two-city town of seemingly 10,000 restaurants, then Jared Brewington’s Funky Grits is just what the neighborhood ordered.
Brewington has been looking to open his “soul-inspired, chef-driven” restaurant since 2015, with several starts and stops and delays along the way. His first choice, a location on Lyndale Avenue, didn’t work out, stalling his project, and then while on a drive through his old stomping grounds he spotted a building on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago. It housed a business selling cell phone plans in the front corner and a fried-food restaurant with “five freezer doors” behind it. “I consider it blight,” he says of that style of cooking. “Buy frozen, fry it up, crunch it up and the only flavor’s off the ranch (dressing).”
This is what the space looked like two weeks before the grand opening. Chef Jordan Carlson, right, was helping out at Sample Room while waiting for Jared Brewington’s Funky Grits to open.
So how come this kind of eatery gets a prime spot, he remembers thinking.
So fast-forward through negotiations, renovation, plumbing problems and several unexpected delays to today (August 14), when Funky Grits officially opened its doors to the public. “I willed it up,” the ever-positive Brewington says.
Social media has made it possible to skip the soft opening and go right to the long lines. Curious neighbors, as well as people who have been following Funky Grits on Facebook, et al, were reading printed menus, even though the menu is beautifully written on the chalkboard behind the POS system. And yes, one of the staff members was hired in part because of her good penmanship.
Cheesy grits, not surprisingly, is the starting point for the top four entrées. Funky Grits is their signature dish, and the traditional cheddar is replaced with blue cheese for delicious results, topped with sausage and a walleye cake. Another interesting dish is cornmeal breaded and fried avocado slices with green chili salsa. The food is all made from scratch, not an easy feat in a small kitchen, but since the food is chef driven, according to its logo, Brewington hired a pro, Jordan Carlson, who previously was with The Sample Room in Northeast Minneapolis.
The décor is “a Jim Smart design,” Brewington says. The walls are bright orange and avocado-with-a touch-of-lime green and the dividers are pressed wood varnished to a high gloss. There are some disconcerting old-fashioned touches, such as a nook with an old console record player decorated with kitschy white china and framed pictures of the nonprofit Brewington is on the board of,
Customers weaving their way back to the sitting room and restrooms pass by a comfy spot for CTI’s photo gallery and more information on the nonprofit.
CTI, an organization that brings technology to farmers in Africa. The organization is also the benefactor of customers rounding up their bill when they order.
There’s still some sprucing up to be done on the outside of the building, which Brewington and his business partner and friend, Ben Brickweg, will tackle later. Right now they’re concentrating on the rush of being open.
Brewington is new to restaurant ownership, but not to the business. His day job was as a business consultant, so he understands business, but as our readers know all too well, the restaurant business is different. Which is why Brewington immersed himself in the industry, first by working in several different restaurants, and then by hanging with accomplished operators, such as Brent Frederick of Jester Concepts. “He’s my Sherpa,” Brewington says, grinning.
He also hired Pat Weber of Mise en Place to check out his early proformas. “It’s been a long haul for those guys,” Weber says. His part was looking at Brewington’s numbers for the capital cost of the kitchen. “You want to be sure you’re not spending money on something that won’t return,” he says.
One of the benefits of Brewington as an owner, Weber says, is that he’s a great marketer and “laid the groundwork to get people to recognize who Funky Grits is before they opened the doors.”
They accomplished this by doing pop-ups around town with logo’d swag, as well as hitting the social media channels with each new development. At their Super Bowl pop-up, he says, “all the (football) players took T-shirts.” Not a bad ROI.
A clever fundraising method was to create a Funkateer Founders Club. A membership of $250 (early seed money) qualifies members to monthly Monday night parties, when the restaurant is closed to non-Funkateers, discounts on beer and wine for life and swag. They may even get their name somewhere on the building. Other perks will be live music—Brewington was a drummer in a “grittier rock ‘n roll band” for most of his life—and a chef-tasting menu. “I throw a really awesome party,” he says.
The classic shrimp and grits with the “holy trinity,” as it’s known in the South or “mirepoix.”
The benevolence shown the nonprofit at the cash register is also directed toward the staff. Starting salaries are $15 an hour. Even though it’s a fast-casual format, servers deliver the food to the tables and check back. The employees, even the kitchen staff, are hired because they are personable, a necessity as they help run food to tables. “The table touch is for real,” he says. “We need to not be on autopilot.”
Brewington is a firm believer that the people making the food should be involved in delivering it. “We’re going to make sure employees meet the public enjoying their food,” he says. Plus it helps if you’re working with people you like.
There’s still lots to do—remember the exterior, plus the floor still needs to be painted—but the doors are open and the food is leaving the kitchen. And he’ll continue to learn from the restaurant mentors who are part of his new venture.
Architect Jim Smart commented that he wouldn’t be surprised if Brewington didn’t some day use all that charisma to run for office. Brewington just smiles when he hears this. In the meantime, he and his partners, which also includes his chef, will have their hands full selling grits. And the opening in mid-August couldn’t have been more fortuitous since National Grits Day was September 1.