Written by Rick Nelson from Star Tribune
Ann Kim, the James Beard award-winning chef/co-owner of Young Joni and Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis, is turning her attention to the suburbs.
Eagan, specifically, where she will place her imprint on the primary restaurant in the Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.
"We like to utilize local partnerships whenever possible," said Devin Burns, vice president of rooms and food & beverage for Omni Hotels & Resorts. "We did our research, then we had the fun experience of tasting the food at Young Joni. Then we met Ann, and that was the icing on the cake. We love her passion, and her view of hospitality. We were lucky that we could talk her into it."
Kim will be overseeing Kyndred Hearth, and fans of her work will recognize her touches at every turn.
The restaurant's centerpiece will be the same copper-clad wood-burning oven — imported from France — that anchors Young Joni and Pizzeria Lola.
Along with Kim's wood-fired pizzas, the seasonal menu will focus on handmade pastas and "other things that I've never been able to do at the other restaurants," she said. Kim said she's also excited about the prospect of serving her first breakfast menu, which will feature what she described as "twists on what I love to eat."
That includes airy ricotta pancakes, a variation on the egg-and-cheese sandwich that sustained her when she lived in New York City ("Mine will kick it up a notch and start with a Japanese milk bun," she said) and a souped-up version of the Korean rice porridge that was a childhood staple, here made with jasmine rice, locally sourced wild rice, mushrooms, pickled vegetables, fried ginger and fresh herbs.
"I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner," said Kim. "It's like a savory oatmeal that's good for you."
The hotel, the company's first in Minnesota, is part of a multiphase mixed-use project being developed by Minnesota Vikings owners Mark, Zygi and Leonard Wilf. The development includes the team's headquarters.
The 200-seat restaurant and lounge will be on the ground floor of the 14-story, 320-room hotel, which is being designed by ESG Architecture & Design of Minneapolis. The restaurant's patio will offer views of TCO Performance Center, the Vikings' practice facility.
"We hope that this becomes a destination for the people living in the surrounding neighborhood, and not just serving as an amenity for the hotel's guests," said Kim. "It's going to be a stand-alone restaurant that happens to be in a hotel."
Dallas-based Omni followed the same think-local strategy at its property adjacent to the headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys in Frisco, Texas. The company recruited prolific Dallas chef Nick Badovinus ("the enfant terrible of the Dallas dining scene," according to D Magazine) to run the hotel's Neighborhood Services restaurant.
Kim is certainly busy. She and her spouse and business partner, Conrad Leifur, are working to open their fourth restaurant, Sooki & Mimi, in Uptown Minneapolis. They also operate Hello Pizza in Edina.
"This opportunity was the best of both worlds," said Kim. "Omni and the Vikings are saying, 'We trust your brand.' They're putting up the capital, and doing the legwork, and that's a gift. I can focus on what I do best and not worry about everything else that's involved with operating a restaurant."
Another lure? Kim, who grew up in nearby Apple Valley, describes herself as a die-hard Vikings fan.
Omni operates 60 luxury hotels and resorts in the U.S. The Eagan hotel and restaurant are scheduled to open in October.