Chef’s Table: Bohemian Niche

Saint Agnes Baking Co. is proud to be part New Bohemia’s success. The Minneapolis restaurant, a modern beer hall specializing in artisanal sausages (served in a signature Saint Agnes bun), keeps its menu current with modern twists on traditional sides thanks to industry veteran and chef Brian Ingram (pictured above). The restaurant company is set to open its second Twin Cities location later this summer, with a goal of two more by the end of 2015. Ingram is the director of operations for M5 Management, which also owns and operates The Freight House in Stillwater and two Las Vegas concepts, Rockin’ Taco and Minus 5 Ice Bar.

Describe your job with M5 Management.
I split time between Las Vegas and the Twin Cities working on our concepts. I’m the culinary guy, I graduated from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America in New York), so I get out there and look at the market and see what’s trending, new and exciting.

And one of those trends is pretzel bread.
We were ahead of the curve with the pretzel bread, which is now a craze. Our old supplier did theirs with the baking soda rub (to get the color). Yours is great; the flavor (from the old-world, hand-dipped caustic soda treatment), is excellent, and we use it in different ways, as table bread, a soup bowl or to dip in a beer cheese fondue.

How has New Bohemia adapted since opening in late 2011?
We changed the concept somewhat; we used to bring in sausages from artisanal producers from all over—we had a number of great ones from Texas—but now we’re buying sausages locally, almost exclusively. Big Steer and Olson’s Meats are two of them. It aligns with our beer program, and what we’re doing with you guys with our bread. We’re looking at charcuterie, we’ve found some producers if we go that route. We still source from states beyond for the rattlesnake and alligator sausages, obviously, but everything else, locally, and we make all our sides and condiments in-house, such as our mustards made with different beers.

We started with a lot of Czech and German beers, but now almost all local beers. Those imports were great beers—and better than some of what’s produced locally—but customers want to see and taste what’s being brewed here. And that’s the trend nationally, wherever I go: small batch, artisanal, local. Out in New York you’re seeing a lot of small-batch bourbons and even gins. That’s where it’s going. As a company we thought about venturing into craft cocktails, but now there’s a trend toward “cleaner” cocktails, where you not covering the flavor of these small-batch spirits.

It plays with the national trend: smaller is cooler. If you’re considered a national chain, you’re done. When we opened New Bohemia, it was very sleek, it looked too cookie-cutter. We had to dirty it up. Most people—especially our demographic—like to think that this is their place that only they know about. We’re opening a Prohibition-era pub in Las Vegas called 1923 (In the Mandalay Bay casino) where there’s no front door, it’s a bookshelf, you walk past it and you find yourself inside. These days many consumers like a degree of exclusivity.

Growth plans?
Locally, the second New Bohemia will be in Golden Valley. Construction is underway, we’re set to open in August. A third location in Eden Prairie is a “distinct possibility.” There will be three to in the Twin Cities area by the end of 2015, including, possibly, a year-round location in the new Saints stadium in downtown St. Paul. Beyond that, we are planning on 10 by the end of 2015 in locations ranging from Florida, to Chicago and Vegas.