Trailblazers 2017: Ann Kim

Ann Kim preparing a meal // Photo by Matt Lien

Ann Kim preparing a meal // Photo by Matt Lien

In a different life, Ann Kim could be running a Jimmy John’s with her husband and business partner Conrad Leifur. She considered the idea when she was a struggling stage actress working for the Hennepin Theatre Trust. She had a dream of opening her own restaurant, a dream that was scoffed at by those around her who pointed to her lack of knowledge in cooking and running a business. Thankfully for all of us, Kim persevered and opened up the neighborhood pizza joint she’d always dreamed about.

First came Pizzeria Lola, which was, and still is, met with resounding praise. Then came Hello Pizza in Edina, which replaced the wood-fired oven of her first venture with East Coast–inspired pies. Now she’s on her third endeavor, Young Joni, which earned Kim a James Beard Award semifinalist nod for Best Chef: Midwest.

While each of Kim’s restaurants serve up a different kind of slice, they’re all counted as some of the most sought-after pizza in the Cities. And with Young Joni, she’s succeeded again. The Northeast restaurant has the perfectly wood-fired pizza Kim’s known for, with the addition of grilled meats and a charming back bar led by manager and cocktail wizard Adam Gorski.

Ann Kim’s dream has manifested itself so successfully because of one secret weapon: she genuinely loves what she does. “I’ve had strangers come up to me and say they want to invest in a chain of Pizzeria Lolas, but that’s not the vision I have,” she told the Star Tribune after opening Hello Pizza. “You do that and you start to lose what made you special in the first place.”

This August, Kim published a tweet that officially makes her a lifelong Trailblazer in our hearts: “8 years ago I almost bought a Jimmy John’s franchise in Cottage Grove b/c I was afraid to open my own restaurant. Fuck fear. Lesson learned.”

Listen to the woman, she knows what she’s talking about.

Trailblazers are the people, ideas, businesses, and organizations doing necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in the realms of food, drink, and culture. See the rest of The Growler’s 2017 Trailblazers here.