It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.
For residents who’ve yearned for a locally-owned, farm to table fresh eating concept in Chanhassen, here’s your chance to bring one to town. And to support it before it even opens.
Chef Jessica Pettingill of Chanhassen is realizing a lifelong dream by opening Cafe Thyme in mid-November, in the former Frankie’s Pizza Pasta & Ribs location in Market Square.
Pettingill has started a Kickstarter Campaign with a goal of raising $10,000 to go toward remodeling the restaurant and upgrading an HVAC hood system. The deadline is Sept. 22. Kickstarter is an all or nothing proposition. If a project doesn’t reach its monetary goal by the deadline date, investors get their money back.
If she doesn’t reach her goal, Pettingill still plans to move ahead and open her cafe. It’s just that it would just be more fun if the community could pitch in and help.
On Pettingill outlined the challenges ahead on her Kickstarter page:
“With all startups in general, there can be an array of risks and challenges that can come about. We are ready to face those challenges head on and believe that our experiences in the business have prepared us to do so...We want to produce wholesome foods made fresh daily and to do that we need your support. We are ready as it is Café Thyme!”
As with other Kickstarters, there is a ladder of donor rewards, from getting your name on the cafe’s “donor” wall, to receiving a reusable “to-go” bag for takeout, or a free scoop of handcrafted ice cream or sorbet with every meal purchased. Her Kickstarter lists them in detail.
BORN TO COOK
Pettingill grew up on a three-acre family farm outside of Bismarck, N. Dak., the majority of the property as Pettingill remembers it, devoted to gardens. She learned to cook at her mother’s side, as well as can what they grew, and raise chickens. “One year, I raised a calf and took it to market to sell,” Pettingill said. Once, she planted onions in her sandbox, and her favorite game to play was not house but restaurant, pretending to take food orders.
She started her food career while still living at home, volunteering as a dietary aide in a retirement home. Later, she moved to Greeley, Colo., where she worked in a variety of restaurants and realized she wanted more.
“I wanted to learn more and to refine my skills,” Pettingill said. But many of the culinary schools were two-year minimum programs. She didn’t want to take that long. She found a one-year intensive program at Western Culinary School of Oregon, Portland. There she learned all aspects of French cooking and technique.
Toward the end of her year, she had a six-week externship with Hotel Sofitel in Redwood Shores, outside of San Francisco. At the end of her stint, a position opened in the banquet division and she was hired. Her culinary career was off and running.
In California, she went on to work in a variety of hotel restaurants and catering companies, which further influenced and shaped the vision she had for her own restaurant one day. California is also where she met her future husband Ryan, a native Californian, with family in Minnesota.
In fact, when the couple married in 2010, they did so during the Minneapolis Aquatennial. They decided to relocate to Minnesota when they had their daughter Olivia, now age 5, and settled in Chanhassen.
Her husband Ryan is a lead technician in the Eden Prairie Tesla service center; Pettingill is a chef in a local senior living complex that has its own full-service restaurant inhouse.
Pettingil had already begun formulating ideas for her own restaurant while still in California five years ago. Earlier this year, in January, she put her plan into action. She enlisted her parents, graphic designers, to develop a logo and image for her restaurant, Cafe Theme, that incorporates an image of a fork.
“There is a story behind the fork,” Pettingil explained. “It represents an actual fork that my great grandfather made by hand, for my great grandmother. My great grandfather immigrated from Slovenia and settled in Ely and worked in the mining industry. He eventually received a promotion and was sent to Cleveland, Ohio, where he invented mining equipment which is still used to this day.
"But my great grandmother was really sad to leave her family and relatives in Ely and would write long sad letters. So my great grandfather made a fork for her, to show her, ‘See, this is what I can do. I’m doing a good job here.’
“She appreciated it,” Pettingill said, but it was not enough. Eventually, her great grandfather compromised, and after a few years, the couple returned to Ely where they stayed for the rest of their lives.
“My great grandfather then gave it to my grandmother, who then passed it down to my dad. He has it in a shadow box, and he said he’d let me display it in the restaurant.”
Refined global comfort food
Her time in a French restaurant and an Indian restaurant has influenced her technique and palate. One of her restaurant’s specialties will be a chili and citrus smoked salmon niçoise salad, with green beans, tomatoes, olives, soft cooked egg and a lemon and dill vinaigrette. Another specialty will be a short rib poutine with freshly made French fries, pickles and a queso fresco of Mexican cheese.”
Pettingill plans to source all her ingredients from local producers and farmers, for the freshest ingredients. Along with fresh daily soups like curried cauliflower, diners can look forward to exploring new dishes with unusual ingredients like the candy cap mushroom.
“It’s indigenous to northern California and tastes like maple syrup," Pettingill said. "It’s used in desserts and pastries, even ice cream and cheesecake.”
Cafe Thyme will have seating for 70, at cozy banquettes and tables, and seasonal outdoor seating. “We want it to be a family-friendly environment, nice and bright, with natural lighting, natural colors, bringing in the green from outside, and making it comfortable,” Pettingil said.
“It’s all over social media, that people want to see a place like this, something they’d see downtown in the North Loop,” Pettingil said. “I’m getting positive feedback—’It’s what we want, what we need.’ I think it will be very well received. Farm to table is the way the industry is turning.”