“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” How restaurant pioneer Kim Bartmann has navigated success after 30 years in the business.

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When you're trying to start or change something in your life, it can be tough to be the first.

The loudest. The boldest. The one creating the rules. It doesn't just take guts, knowledge and of caring less what others may think of you, it also takes a deep reserve of personal values; of knowing what you stand for and what you are hoping to change.

Kim Bartmann, the acclaimed restauranteur and entrepreneur of the Bartmann Group that includes nine award-winning restaurants including Barbette, The Bird, Book Club, and Tiny Diner, may sound like she was born to be where she is today.

Yet, Kim didn't go to school for Sustainable Food Entrepreneurship World Domination. Nor did she train as a Top Chef, or get a shiny MBA.

She originally moved to Minneapolis to study to become a lawyer or academic and picked up kitchen work in restaurants to pay tuition. That turned into the idea to open a coffee shop (the legendary Cafe Wyrd) - one that had a "come one, come all" inclusivity, unique art and a real sense of community.

What makes Kim different is that she doesn't try to pretend she has it all figured out. As open about her business challenges as her wins, she is showing that success has many definitions. Almost 30 years on, she is adapting as she goes.

Kim, you're described as a visionary with a "magic touch." We know these descriptors live alongside discipline, hard work, collaboration, and creativity. Where do you find your inspiration? And what part does intuition play in your business process?

Intuition has played a significant role in my motivations and decisions around creating places and on the "people" side of things. Probably a lot more when I was younger - is that because I'm wiser or because I don't listen to my intuition as much as I should? Hard to say! Now I find that I'm great as part of a team, making decisions in reaction to metrics, but I don't consider that an intuition-based process.

You started Cafe Wyrd with a loan from your mom, who was a single parent. There must have been pressure to succeed, yet despite your kitchen experience, you were still pretty green. Can you remember how you felt at the time, and what you told yourself as you got started?

At the time I didn't even register the risk at all, I was blind to it. I thought I was being clever, coming up with a scheme to work and be able to talk to my friends at the same time! But, I definitely registered the pressure to make sure I made that payment on my mom's $5k credit card on time every month, and I worked 18 hours a day for a year to make sure that happened. 

You are a national leader in restaurant sustainability and the farm-to-table movement. Was there one standout moment when you realized that this was the way forward, or was this passion more of a slow-burn?

I have always been a tree-hugger - now I say I'm tree-hugger with stats! I'd been in business for some time before it dawned on me that I had to change how it was being done. My lightbulb moment was when I went to a talk given by Judy Wicks, the James Beard winner and founder of White Dog Cafe and co-founder of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.) A true food hero!

What she shared about purchasing and sustainability in local farming and economies got me very fired up. I learned that for every one pound of shrimp harvested through bottom-dragging, 13 other pounds of sea life were killed. We removed shrimp from our menu the next day! I told the chef that within the year, all of our proteins would come from local farmers. Not long after, we were serving grass-fed burgers to bowling alley goers. 

Kim’s award-winning tiny diner in south minneapolis features biointensive urban farming methods, edible gardens, rooftop honey bees and annual crops to foster pollinator habitat and soil fertility.

Kim’s award-winning tiny diner in south minneapolis features biointensive urban farming methods, edible gardens, rooftop honey bees and annual crops to foster pollinator habitat and soil fertility.

The restaurant business is not for the faint-hearted. When your Bearcat Bar venture shut several months after launch you said: "It was awesome for a very brief period of time." We love this reframing of what others may have sees as “failure”. How do you approach risk?

Anyone who's known me for a while has seen the Japanese proverb in my email signature line: "fall seven times, stand up eight." I approach most things that way, including business decisions. You just can't let change, even when it's interpreted as a failure, keep you down - there are enough forces out there trying to keep women down as it is!

What I do isn't a game, but I do use the analogy of rugby a lot. In rugby, you are trying to move the ball up the field, and you often lose it. The bulk of the game is trying to get the ball back, and you can't win the game if all you're thinking about is trying not to lose the ball in the first place. You've got to keep moving up the field to score.

What advice do you have for women who want to start or change something in their lives, but they're not sure where to begin?

Ask for help, connect with your peers and advisors, and DO IT!


Learn more about the Bartmann Group here. 
Experience Red Stag Supper Club for yourself at our July Even Happier Hour! (A huge thank you to Kim and the team for supporting this event.)