Minneapolis Food Hub Is an Entrepreneurial Playground
Kieran Folliard (third from left) stands with The Lone Grazer Creamery team in front of Food Building, the Minneapolis artisanal food production hub he launched last year.
It takes time to create something special. Time to form the idea, develop the necessary skills, and execute a plan properly. It makes sense, then, that when Kieran Folliard describes his vision for Food Building and the products inside, he begins by saying, “It takes time.”
Folliard is best defined as a serial entrepreneur and is by no means a newcomer to the Twin Cities food-and-beverage world. He’s responsible for the creation of such great spots as The Local and The Liffey, as well as standout brands 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, which he sold to Beam Inc. in 2012. Food Building is his most recent creation and it’s a creative entrepreneur’s daydream manifested.
“Food Building is about the story of how do we make good food,” explains Folliard. “It’s interesting and fun. It has its own personality and a little bit of a culture we are trying to create—one of doing really good work that makes a difference in the quality of the product.”
Food Building was born out of what Folliard saw as the absurdity of Minnesota pigs being shipped to the coasts, processed, then shipped back to Minnesota, repackaged as California- or New York-made meats. Mike Phillips, founder of Red Table Meat Co., saw cured meat, an item other regions of the world fight over passionately as a source of local pride, as an unclaimed opening in the Minnesota marketplace.
Lone Grazer cheeses and Red Table meats from food entrepreneurs Rueben Nilsson and Mike Phillips.
“We should be able to make a world-class product here out of our own pigs,” Phillips says.
Phillips started producing salumi, a blanket term for all dry-cured pork products. He produced it out of Folliard’s restaurants for a few years before the pair decided to find a building. They discovered the perfect spot in Northeast Minneapolis, but it was 30,000 square feet, and they only needed 5,000, Phillips says. Instead of looking elsewhere, they posed the question: What else could be produced here?
Enter Rueben Nilsson and The Lone Grazer Creamery. Nilsson began making cheeses seven years ago with Faribault Dairy Company.
“I met Kieran through the unofficial cheese network,” jokes Nilsson, “and I always knew I wanted to branch out on my own.” Nilsson and Folliard developed The Lone Grazer early so its operations and location could be part of Food Building’s design and up and running when doors opened in February 2015.
The Lone Grazer produces three washed-rind cheeses: Hansom Cab, Grazier’s Edge and Northeazy, plus fresh string cheese and cheese curds. All are made with milk from two Minnesota farms. Red Table Meat Co. produces a variety of salumi—including coppa, pancetta, and guanciale—using whole pigs from four Minnesota farms and one in Wisconsin. Both companies offer wholesale pricing, and restaurants such as Bar La Grassa, Spoon and Stable, Travail and Forepaugh’s are taking advantage.
It’s certainly fitting, then, that a restaurant opened at the source in November.
“We had a space we always intended for a restaurant, but we didn’t want to own it ourselves,” Folliard says of The Draft Horse.
While The Draft Horse is separately owned—the team includes Luke Kyle (also co-owner and chef of Anchor Fish & Chips), Katie Kyle, and Anne Saxton—it has a symbiotic relationship with Food Building's products. A large portion of the menu uses Lone Grazer cheeses, Red Table meats, as well as the honey from the roof. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention there are beehives on the roof.
The Draft Horse, The Lone Grazer Creamery, and Red Table Meat Co. make up a large portion of Food Building, but there was still space that remained uninhabited. Steve Horton, the former Rustica Bakery owner who wanted to bring milling back to Minneapolis wanted in, but an obstacle stood in the way: Milling, known historically for being highly explosive, is illegal in certain areas Minneapolis. Or at least it was, until now. In the same way Surly Brewing overcame outdated legislation barring taprooms in Minneapolis, Food Building has done the same for milling. Construction on the space is in the beginning stages and the plan is to be producing flour and bread by May.
Using his nearly 100-year-old Berkl slicer, Mike Phillips of Red Table Meat Co. offers samples of his cured meats during an event at Food Building.
The vision for Food Building is for all three products to expand their influence in the national market. Red Table and The Lone Grazer have received a great response so far, with Red Table even winning big last month at the Good Food Awards in San Francisco. With that success, Folliard, Nilsson, and Phillips all agree there is still room for growth.
One of the more exciting directions for Food Building’s future though, is a focus on providing a comprehensive tour of the building, creating a place in the city where people can come see how their food is made.
“Food Building is really about bringing people, consumers, and retail and restaurant partners into part of the story,” Folliard says.
Currently, the tour is primarily self-guided, but the hope is to offer a fully curated tour with guides and tastings. Traffic is already increasing as customers from The Draft Horse like the idea of learning more what they’re eating, while others just wander in.
“We get more people coming right to the building to look around and they ask where can they find some cheeses or meats and we just tell them to pop in next door,” Nilsson says.
Above all, the tour allows the consumer to experience the craft of creating food, something Folliard says is the fundamental goal of Food Building.
“Food Building showcases products that have been around for a long time and will be around for a long time in the future,” he says. “It took time to make the products. We take the time to share those products. And now take the time to actually eat the products. Food Building is about time.”