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Hangin’ With Klecko: Elizabeth Eckman

On Sunday afternoon, not long after my workday was complete, I made my way to Tavern on Grand to decompress with a plate of walleye tacos. Just as I was about to dip my nacho into the specialty green sauce, I looked through the window and saw Elizabeth Eckman.

Some of you may know Elizabeth as a senior partner and account manager at EHS Hospitality, but I like to think of her as my judging partner at the Eastside Burger Battle.

Even though its rude to pound on windows, I did, and within a moment Eckman sidled up next to me at the bar.

Klecko: Barkeep, get my friend a …what are you drinking?

Eckman: I’ll have a Coors, please.

Klecko: Aren’t you a millennial, shouldn’t you be ordering an IPA?

Eckman: You’re looking at a farm girl, Klecko. Coors has always taken care of me.

Klecko: So what gives, don’t you live in Uptown, what brings you to the Capital City?

Eckman: A good friend of mine, John Gleason, is opening a restaurant just down the street from here. I’ve been helping him paint.

Klecko: Which space?

Eckman: Bap and Chicken, it’s Korean fried chicken. John’s been in the game a long time. I think this is going to do well.

Klecko: So in addition to recruiting, you paint?

Eckman: I hustle, Klecko, that’s why I’m doing all right.

Klecko: Since I’m buying you beer, you want to help me out, and let me write you up in a Foodservice News column?

Eckman: Only if you print my intelligent comments.

Klecko: My fan base is bourgeoisie, they don’t want intelligence, they want to be entertained, so tell me a story.

Eckman: (smirking) Back when I was managing at Manny’s, you remember Jared Allen, right, the defensive end for the Vikings? He hosted a party for a bunch of his friends. As the evening got going somebody mentioned how his shirt was too tight, so Jared tore his sleeves off.

I laughed and went about my business, but not long after, when I walked by, I noticed somebody, somehow, had produced scissors, and everybody at his table cut their sleeves off. 

It was really cold outside, we had to send some of the guests home wearing butcher coats.

Klecko: (laughing) Klecko Nation is going to love that, but that’s enough of the monkey biz for a while. I want to know, why did you jump from managing restaurants to recruiting?

Eckman: I’d been in the industry for years. I worked at Manny’s, Barrio in Edina and ended up at Crave. I loved doing what I do, but I realized I had a strong network and I believed I’d be able to turn those connections into profit.

Klecko: How are you stacking up against your competitors?

Eckman: In seven years, I am constantly in the nation’s top three. Last year, I was No. 1. At 33, I am the youngest female market partner nationwide. I’m proud of that.

Klecko: With the industry being short of talent, does that make a recruiter’s job easier, or harder?

Eckman: I don’t worry too much about the economy. I’m connected to a lot of people. People who force change. These folks are ambitious and always looking for upgrades. That’s why I’m their first call. I make it my business to have what my clients need.

Klecko: Sounds exhilarating.

Eckman: Yeah, it can be, but in addition to knowing how to produce talent, the other thing my clients rely on is my discretion. I like to think of myself as the Twin Cities’ premiere secret keeper. Kind of like that guy behind the curtain in The Wizard Of Oz.

I know who’s hiring. I know who will be opening in six months. I know who’s shopping leases long before the public does.

Klecko: Did I ever tell you how I hung out with Mickey Carroll, one of the original Munchkins at the UP Show?

Eckman: (rolling eyes) Bartender, give Klecko another of whatever he’s drinking.

Klecko: OK, Elizabeth, time to talk smart. What’s next in hospitality?

Eckman: Think Keg and Case. They’re doing it right. Small footprint, casual restaurants, more affordable labor, higher service focus. Now let me ask a question: Is fine dining dead?

Klecko: It has been for a decade, but a lot of people weren’t paying attention.

Eckman: I agree. If all the people who expressed sadness when La Belle Vie or Corner Table closed showed up once in a while instead of complaining, those concepts would still be floating, but now people want food that’s accessible and creative.

That’s why Travail is killing it. They are upscale, but approachable and exciting. Have you heard about their new bread-service program?

Klecko: No

Eckman: Every so often a Travail employee will bark out, “Who needs bread?” Then all the people who want bread raise their hand and the Travail guy chucks them a loaf. It’s beyond simple, but it’s genius.

Have you been to Red Rabbit?

Klecko:  A couple of times. I liked it a lot actually.

Eckman: That entire team is brilliant. They get what’s going on. Not just now, but in the future. Next time you go back, pay attention to their menu. Notice how is says “approachable Italian.” I think that’s a conscience choice to let the public know they’re separating from fine dining.

Millennials dig this because they aren’t going to restaurants to experience dishes they don’t know how to cook. That’s what my parents’ generation did. Today, it’s about the dining experience, the aesthetic.

Klecko: I have to say, I really enjoy listening to you. You are confident, more so than most. And as much as I have enjoyed this interview, I’d prefer to switch gears to gossip, but before we go there, one last question: Where will you be in 10 years?

Eckman: It’s not in my best interest to answer that, but know this, I’m the tip of my generation’s spear. I’m the one who’s connected. A pioneer, I am that girl, so all I’m going to say is keep an eye on me and see what happens.

Klecko: That might have been the best answer I’ve heard in years. I like your style.

Until next month. 

Dan “Klecko” McGleno can be reached at kleckobread@gmail.com or 651-329-4321.

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