Column: There’s no place like home for Duluth restaurateurDuluthians are persistent, perhaps even stubborn sometimes. I can say that because I am one. But I think that this persistence and stubbornness is what makes us a great community, full of folks with big dreams who will stop at nothing until those dreams are realized.
By: Cara Lindberg, For the Budgeteer News
Duluthians are persistent, perhaps even stubborn sometimes. I can say that because I am one. But I think that this persistence and stubbornness is what makes us a great community, full of folks with big dreams who will stop at nothing until those dreams are realized.
Restaurateur Derek Snyder is a perfect example of a local guy making his Duluth dream come true.
Snyder, who grew up in the east end of Duluth, watched his parents Boyd Snyder and Rusty Pederson work their own small business, so you can say it was in his blood to continue the tradition. After high school at Duluth East, Derek spent two years at Lake Superior College and felt the calling to move out west. “I was so curious about a place where you could surf, snowboard, hike in old-growth forests and enjoy city nightlife all in one day.” He chose Portland, Oregon.
It took him three states and two countries to work his way back to Duluth’s Canal Park, where he pushes the locavore movement.
In Portland, Snyder worked for a small Italian restaurant that was owned by a young couple. The couple taught Derek many things, but mostly that you can make a restaurant into anything you dream it to be. “It does not have to be warfare between customer-to-server and server-to-kitchen. A restaurant is more like a symphony of dishes clamoring, people chatting and passionate hard work going on,” Snyder said.
While in Portland Snyder fell in love with wine and cocktail mixology, which was very popular at the time in the late ‘90s in Portland. Both still are a huge passion of Snyder’s, and influence his work today.
The next several years Snyder lived in Wyoming, Alaska and Ecuador. It wasn’t until a trip to Paris to visit friends that Snyder fell head-over-heels for the food-and-wine culture. His two friends, who were fluent in French, took him all around Paris and Southwest France. He was able to sit back and take in all the flavors and scenery of French restaurant culture. “My great talent is sipping wine and observing the world. I think we are all great at that one,” Snyder said.
After this influential trip to France, Snyder became serious about opening a restaurant. His hometown of Duluth is where he wanted to plant his restaurant’s roots. He moved back to Duluth and began working on a business plan with the UMD Center for Economic Development. His plan was to open a restaurant below the Electric Fetus. Unfortunately, after several years, 150 people turned down the investment opportunity. But Snyder never gave up. His dream became a reality when now business partner Mark Swenson came along with a co-owner idea. With this new collaboration, Lake Avenue Restaurant and Bar was born.
Lake Avenue Restaurant and Bar, owned by Snyder, Swenson and Michael Schraepfer, is located in the Dewitt-Seitz building in Canal Park. The restaurant is 24 years old and was named Lake Avenue Café until the current ownership. “We are the third set of owners, and maybe the luckiest of all. We are blessed with their great history of having delicious food and wonderful atmosphere,” Snyder said.
As the menu reads, Lake Avenue is “locavore cuisine with a micro-distillery bar.” Chef Tony Beran and Sous Chef Alex Haugen are the creative geniuses behind the eclectic, yet comforting menu. “The concept is to locally source as much food as northern Minnesota will allow, and then use the decades of combined experience of our chefs to deliver each diner the best experience we can. Tastes from all over the world done with Minnesota flair,” Snyder said.
Sourcing local food is becoming easier as more restaurants and companies come on board with sustainability efforts. “It can be challenging to source locally and regionally but with restaurants like New Scenic Café, Duluth Grill and Chester Creek Cafe all doing their part with the farm-to- table concept, it makes it easier for us to join and contribute,” Snyder said.
Their sustainability efforts do not stop in the kitchen. The wine program of small, organic, family-owned wineries from all over the world includes the Lake Avenue-exclusive Chateau Grand Traverse winery in Michigan. The cocktail and spirit program features 65 percent American distilleries with the remaining being small micro distilleries from around the world.
Art from local artists is featured on the walls of the restaurant. Snyder said, “It is hard to live off of one’s art these days, so the artist takes 100 percent of the commission of his or her art work that sells. We are proud to help sell and sustain the artists of this town. It is a small role we might play but hopefully it helps.”
Snyder also handles bringing in music acts throughout the year. “As far as live music goes, I feel we are an anomaly. We try to bring in bands from the Twin Cities that normally would not play in Duluth and pair them up with a local band. This seems to have worked out well for us,” he said.
Snyder describes Lake Avenue Restaurant and Bar as “fine dining at your cabin — comfort that leaves you wanting to come back time and time again.”
As my non-foodie and self-proclaimed food critic husband says, “This food is really good!” Although not eloquently stated, I have to agree with him. The food is really good.
Cara Lindberg is the board president of Sustainable Twin Ports. She lives with her husband in the Duluth area. Cara can be reached at email@example.com.