★ THE KNIFE GUY ★
A chef’s knife is more than just a blade and a handle, it’s an extension of the arm. TJ Stockdale knows this because he’s been a chef for years on the line; he understands that working with good blades that have been cared for can make all the difference. And yet working the hours they do, some cooks don’t have the time or skill to really hone their knives, which is where Stockdale’s big idea came in. He would come to them.
Chef’s Edge is a truck that’s really a chef’s mobile toy box. Inside are knives of all make and manner stuck to magnetic boards. There are scoops, peelers, spoons, and thermometers bungeed to peg board that covers the walls and ceiling. Also in the truck are wheels he uses to skillfully sharpen blades.
Stockdale pulls up to a restaurant, and the kitchen can stock up right on the spot or the individual can have his blade honed for less than $4. Chef Russell Klein and his cooks at Meritage are fans. “I love the convenience, and his prices have been really competitive,” says Klein. “The knife sharpening service is great. Some cooks can be really personal with their knives and won’t let anyone touch them, but it’s been great for my prep staff to have some really sharp knives. It’s very cool to see a guy like TJ identify a need and start a business to serve it. As the chef community grows in the Twin Cities, these sorts of services are exactly what we need.”
But Stockdale is doing something else that’s even more important. A small portion of his business comes from new restaurants that don’t have the budget for fancy knives, so Stockdale supplies them with a set of his, free of charge, and just shows up every two weeks to sharpen them. All they pay for is the sharpening service, which, in the early days of a ramp-up, could make all the difference for a bourgeoning restaurant on the cutting edge.
★ THE NEXT GEN ★
Stock and Badge
How does one go about building an empire? Phil Roberts was a designer who had never worked in a restaurant when he took on a freakish space in St. Paul and crafted Muffuletta. It was his kicker, and from there he built Parasole. But truly he’s the exception, not the norm. You’ve heard the stat, the one trotted out to every hopeful, that 50 percent of all restaurants fail. That has less to do with restaurants and more to do with corporate executives who throw great dinner parties and think they can become the next Roberts.
What if the next empire isn’t built on starry-eyed dreams but on well-honed craft? What if the people involved have already been through the fires alone and survived? No, thrived? Please welcome to the stage Stock and Badge.
The company formed by Erick Harcey of Victory 44, Steve Horton of Rustica Bakery, and Dan Anderson and Greg Hoyt of Dogwood Coffee is a collection of individuals who have all received acclaim for excelling at what they do—coffee, bread, and porky goodness. Out of admiration for each other’s crafts, they’ve banded together for the greater good.
“We have a mission. It’s to stand behind quality food with quality ingredients and create places that aren’t cliché,” Harcey notes. Pushing the envelope may be important, but not at all costs. “We want to be a force on the food scene, but we have rules. We collectively made a pact that this company will grow through its people. We can only move forward through those we help grow.” Sounds like a guy who works on the line.
Parka, their first creation, came barreling out of the gate with great elements: a cool vibe, good ingredients, and an edgy menu of comfort food that is as surprising as it is satisfying. And signs of the collaboration have already shown up at Rustica, where Harcey has worked up a full menu of small plates, soups, salads, and of course sandwiches to go with the phenomenal breads. The next project will likely be a commissary to support all the current and future pieces of the pie. Building in support on the front end? Who do these guys think they are? Empire builders, that’s who.