Joan Schmitt + Susan Dunlop of Joan’s in the Park on Raising a Restaurant After Raising a Family

JoansIn our second interview with some of the talented women featured in our Top 10 Mom-Owned Restaurants in America spotlight, we spoke with Joan Schmitt and Susan Dunlop, co-owners of Joan’s in the Park in St. Paul, Minnesota. Joan’s opened in late 2011, has garnered many accolades locally and nationally, including a 2013 Diners’ Choice Award for Top 100 Best Overall Restaurants in America. The married couple’s blended family includes Joan’s children, Dan, 33, Mark, 30, and Kelly, 27, and Susan’s daughter, Lindsay, 26, all of whom work at the restaurant, either full or part time.

How did Joan’s in the Park come about?  And, how did you balance your family life while opening a restaurant?

Susan: Joan and I worked together at Morton’s Steakhouse in Florida. At that point, we’d started talking about doing our own restaurant, but Joan was from Minnesota, and her kids were all there. Our thought, this was in 2006, was that we would make a plan to get back to Saint Paul and do the restaurant and have our kids involved in it as well. They were all in the restaurant business to begin with. So, we had an opportunity to do something with our children, something that they were already involved in.

Did you both know that you wanted to work in the restaurant industry, and did you always know that you were going to be a working mom at some point?

Susan: Absolutely. I think I really wanted to have children, but I wasn’t a person to stay at home and not work outside the house and have a career. That was always important. Both things have always been important to me. My whole life has been balancing that, trying to make that work.

Joan: For me, I knew my entire life that I wanted children and if I could have been a stay-at-home mom, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Working in a restaurant allowed me the freedom to be home all day with them and still be involved in school and everything, and then also have a career.

What are the challenges around being the head of your family and the head of a business? Can you talk about some of the challenges around that?

Susan: I think for us the biggest challenge was that we both came from working in a corporate environment where you have departments that handle different things for you. To go from that kind of comfort to just everything being on us, that was the bigger transition than our families. Our children were grown and out of the house and financially successful before we started our own restaurant. I’ve always wanted to have a restaurant, but it wasn’t feasible when my daughter was still in high school or going to college because of the risk that you take when you leave a really comfortable corporate position and take everything you own and put it into a restaurant. I think sometimes that’s just not realistic, if you have a family that you’re responsible for.

There is a juggling act along the way of having to make hard choices and maybe sometimes either disappointing your child or disappointing your boss, I’m sure.

Joan: I think that happens to everybody, but for me, it was really hard and to have three that were all very involved in school and with friends outside of school. I was the general manager at Morton’s, and it was many hours of responsibility, but my kids understood that we had nice lifestyle, and that was due to me having to work. They didn’t mind a lot when I had to miss things, and we just prioritized what the really important events were that I always attended and I just let the little ones go.

Susan: I think also that things have changed. People’s ideas about things have changed in the 20 plus years we’ve been doing this. In the beginning, 20 years ago, the expectation was, and maybe this is what we call old school, that you took care of your work and work was your priority. Nobody wanted to hear that you had a baseball game or something to do with the kids. After 9/11, though, I think it really put things in perspective for people that work didn’t have to always come first, and I think that made it easier to start making some sacrifices at work to do more things with your family.

My expectation now, for all my staff, is a lot different, as far as making accommodations for things that they want to do outside of work. We have two women working for us who both have children, and we’re much kinder and gentler, as far as making accommodations for kids.

Do you think there is anything that the industry could do across the board, either in big or small ways, to help women who want to be in the culinary industry and still have a family?

Joan: I would like to see more restaurants change their hours on holidays. It’s really hard to be a new person in a restaurant and have to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and that part of owning is really nice, that we’re able to say, “You know what? We’re not going to open on Christmas Eve, so that people can be with their families.”

Susan: I don’t think it’s the industry that needs to change. I think it’s people’s expectations of things — as a society, saying, “You know, I’m not going to go out on Christmas Day because I know people have to work to take care of me.” However, if you want to accomplish something, you’re going to have to put long hours in. It’s a personal choice.

When we put together the list of Top 10 Mom-Owned Restaurants in America, we thought we’d come up with a lot more than we did. But, while there are many female-owned restaurants, there are far fewer of these women who are also moms. Does that speak to the fact that you waited until a certain point in your children’s lives to sort of tackle entrepreneurship? Continue Reading

2012 Charlie Awards: Congratulations to the Twin Cities Honorees!

Congratulations to Chef Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market on your Charlie Award!

The second annual Charlie Awards were held on Sunday, November 11, 2012, in Minneapolis at the Pantages Theatre. A celebration in recognition of the exceptional contributions of the Twin Cities metro area restaurant, food and beverage industry, nearly 200 local restaurants participated in this year’s awards. The 2012 Charlie Awards honorees include:

• Lifetime AchievementLenny Russo, Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market
• Outstanding ChefDoug Flicker, Piccolo
• Outstanding Restaurant DesignBachelor Farmer
• Outstanding BartenderJohnny Michaels, La Belle Vie
• Outstanding NeighborRandy Stanley, Parasole (Burger Jones, Chino Latino, Good Earth, Manny’s Steakhouse, Mozza Mia, Muffuletta, Pittsburgh Blue, Salut Bar Américain, and Uptown Cafeteria)
• Outstanding Restaurant ItemMasu Sushi & Robata’s Masu Roll

The Charlie Awards are named after the legendary restaurant, Charlie’s Café Exceptionale, which was a mainstay in downtown Minneapolis until the 1980s. The Charlie Awards were created to recognize the outstanding contributions that our metro area food and restaurant industry to ensure a diverse, vibrant and creative lifestyle and economy. The Charlies are the inspiration of Minnesota’s own culinary expert and James Beard award-winning food journalist, Sue Zelickson.

Congratulations to all the nominees and honorees on your achievements.

 

On Our Plate: Best Wine Lists; SF Michelin Starred Restaurants; MSP Charlie Awards Voting; Belga Café Is Eight; Candlelight Conservation in British Columbia

Don’t miss Candlelight Conservation in the Vancouver + Victoria, British Columbia, areas tomorrow night!

Happenings on and around OpenTable…

* We’re toasting the 2012 Diners’ Choice Award winners for Top 100 Wine Lists in the U.S. Find out where you can drink to that.

* The stars are out in the Bay Area with the release of the MICHELIN Guide San Francisco 2013. Learn which restaurants are twinkling today!

* Washington, D.C. fave Belga Café has turned eight years young. And we’ve got an exclusive interview with Chef Bart Vandaele on how they’re celebrating this week!

* The Twin Cities Charlie Awards are coming soon. Vote for MSP’s best dish and purchase tickets to the awards ceremony today.

* When you dine with the parentals, who picks up the check? Click thru to vote in this week’s poll.

* Do you know where Honey Boo Boo recently ordered ‘sketti? We do!

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Vote to Choose the Twin Cities Charlie Awards Winner for ‘Outstanding Food Item’

Don’t miss your chance to vote in and attend MSP’s Charlie Awards!

Minneapolis-St. Paul diners! Help pick the best dish in the Twin Cities at this year’s Charlie Awards, a celebration that recognizes the exceptional contributions of the Twin Cities metro area restaurant, food, and drink industry. More than 150 restaurants and food trucks have entered one food item they believe is representative of their business and voting is open to the public through October 28, 2012.

Click here to vote for your favorite food item. You can vote for one restaurant per day every day through this Sunday. To make it easier to find your favorites, they are grouped in the following neighborhoods (subject to change based on number of entries): Downtown Minneapolis, North Minneapolis/North Metro, South Minneapolis/South Metro, St. Paul/East Metro and Twin Cities West Metro.

Then, purchase your tickets to the second annual Charlie Awards on Sunday, November 11, 2012, at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis at 2PM. A VIP brunch sponsored by Mpls.St. Paul Magazine will precede the show at 11:30AM at The Brave New Workshop. There will also be an after-party sponsored by Minnesota Monthly from 3:30–5PM. in the IDS Center Crystal Court.

Vote, purchase tickets, and learn more about the Charlie Awards today!