25 Trailblazers of 2017

Good ideas are only worth something if a person is willing to put them into action.

Luckily, our state is filled with innovators with the courage to challenge convention and rethink the way the world works.

A street artist whose sole medium is yarn. A musical gatekeeper giving undiscovered local musicians a chance to shine on stage. A research group breeding hardy grape vines to withstand Minnesota winters. These are just three of this year’s Trailblazers, chosen for their bold pursuits of the unknown. These are the people who are taking the ol’ status quo and flipping it on its head. These are people who aren’t afraid to ask questions, to forge new paths, to do something that’s never been done before.

Whether they’re changing the game in food, drink, or culture, these Trailblazers all have one thing in common: They’re leading us all to cooler, stranger, and more delicious places.

Drink

Lee Egbert of Dashfire Bitters // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Lee Egbert

Lee Egbert has done a great deal in the past five years to progress the local spirits industry forward. Since launching Dashfire Bitters, Egbert has expanded his product lineup, secured a building and equipment for his own distillery, and signed a national distribution deal that will increase Dashfire’s footprint from six states to 40 (plus parts of Canada). If that wasn’t enough to keep Egbert occupied in recent years, he is also a co-founder of Thirst Network. Read more…

 

Keepsake Cidery in Dundas, Minnesota // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

Keepsake Cidery

In a cider scene still struggling for an identity, Keepsake Cidery is helping define what Minnesota craft cider can and should be. In spring of 2014, Nate Watters and Tracy Jonkman planted 2,400 apple tree saplings on their property in Dundas, Minnesota, with a singular goal in mind: make top quality cider from Minnesota-grown apples. Spanning 30 varieties of dessert and cider apples, they knew they were taking a big chance on the orchard. Read more…

 

Matt Clark, University of Minnesota grape breeder, with a potential new U of MN wine grape variety // Photo by David L. Hansen / University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota Grape Breeding

When the mercury dips below zero and the snow is blowing across windswept fields in Minnesota, take a moment to consider—in spring, the grape vines at the state’s 60-plus wineries and even more vineyards will begin to bloom again. This fact is due in large part to the University of Minnesota’s grape breeding and enology program. They have yielded cold-hardy wine grape varieties that have been critical in establishing a wine industry in Minnesota. Read more…

 

A Combine harvesting Wheat in a Vertical Malt field // Photo courtesy of Vertical Malt

Local Malt

Malt is the backbone of craft beer. In fact, it can take three to seven times more malt to brew a craft beer than a domestic lager. That’s good news for the state’s few barley growers and maltsters. Up until two years ago, Minnesota was home to just one malting company, Rahr Malting Corporation. The 170-year-old company produces 460,000 metric tons of malt each year—enough to brew 6 billion bottles of the average craft beer. Now, Minnesota’s two craft maltsters are poised to change local crops and economics. Read more…

 

From left to right, Casey Underkofler, Erin Rolek and Peder Schweigert // Photos by Kevin Kramer and

The Bachelor Farmer Beverage Team

There are several fine cocktail bars in town. There are several more excellent coffee shops. And there are lots of places to drink an interesting and thoughtfully selected glass of wine. But nowhere in the Twin Cities does excellence in all three beverages happen under one roof quite like at The Bachelor Farmer, and there are three talented drink-slingers to thank. Read more…

 

Jay (right) and Sandy Boss Febbo of Bang Brewing // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Sandy and Jay Boss Febbo of Bang Brewing

From the reclaimed and reused materials they used to build and decorate their cozy taproom and outdoor space, to their commitment to using only organic brewing ingredients, Bang Brewing is always conscious of their impact on the planet and the communities of which they are a part. In addition to being the only brewery in Minnesota using exclusively organic ingredients, Bang has also been experimenting with the agricultural side of beer. Read more…

 

Quality assurance and quality testing beakers // Photo by Kevin Kramer

Quality Beer

Craft beer will live or die on quality, and it’s up to us to demand superior products. Cheers to the breweries, bars, liquor stores, and other organizations working to make sure that craft beer is putting its best face forward in the market. Read more…

 

 

Food

Craig Cohen // Photo by Aaron Job

Craig Cohen

While much of the history of the Twin Cities has been erased by developers to make space for the new, Cohen is doing something rare: shaping and securing the future of West Seventh, and St. Paul as a whole, by preserving and building off of its past. Craig and his father surprised many in the West Seventh neighborhood when, in 2017, they emerged as potential interested buyers of the old Schmidt Brewery with plans to open a Pike Place inspired market in the brewery’s old keg house. Read more…

 

Gavin Kayson, right, of Spoon and Stable from 2016 when he cooked cassoulet with The Growler Magazine // Photo by Matt Lien

Gavin Kayson

In a time when it seems our brightest local talents are leaving for bigger cities, Gavin Kaysen flipped the trend on its head by choosing Minneapolis for his first restaurant, shining a spotlight on our dynamic food scene. His return to Minnesota has played a substantial role in putting the Twin Cities on the national culinary radar. Read more…

 

J.D. Fratzke and Matty O’Reilly

As dining in the Twin Cities moves further away from million dollar flameouts on Hennepin Avenue, cheers to O’Reilly and Fratzke for focusing their considerable talents on the basics—the pizza, the chicken and vegetables, the stuff that might not make splashy headlines but makes us feel warm and sated when we just want a good meal on the way home from work. Read more…

 

Jack Riebel at The Lexington // Photo by Tj TurnerJack Riebel

On its face, it might not seem trailblazing to reopen one of St. Paul’s oldest restaurants. But these ambitious restaurateurs could have easily started an original concept elsewhere. Blazing trails can mean forging new paths, but Jack Riebel has shown it can also mean returning to forgotten ones, clearing away the overgrowth, and reminding us why the path forged in the first place.  Read more…

 

Carol March

St. Paul is finally stepping out of the shadow of Minneapolis’ restaurant scene and getting a share of the spotlight. It’s just a new, fresh-faced Lowertown. A place burning with potential. But before the neighborhood started attracting the likes of Tim Niver, chef Hide Tozawa, and Tim McKee, one woman laid the foundation for Lowertown’s food renaissance. One notable female figure: Carol March Read more…

 

Ann Kim preparing a meal // Photo by ?????

Ann Kim

She had a dream of opening her own restaurant, a dream that was scoffed at by those 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. 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.” Read more…

 

Yia Vang

Hmong food in Minnesota is not the same as it was 20 years ago, and 20 years from now it will be different again. Trust that Yia Vang will be there to help us understand it along the way. Vang’s food—most often tasted through his Union Kitchen series of pop-ups—is comforting, fragrant, textured, and lively. He takes the Hmong superfecta of rice/meat/broth/spice and plates them in a way that makes sense to Twin Cities diners. Read more…

 

A youth worker at Youth Farm's West Side // Photo courtesy of Youth Farm

Youth Farming Non-Profits

America has a farming crisis, one that has nothing to do with prices, pests, topsoil or water quality. The problem is with the farmers themselves—the average age of Minnesota farmers is 56, and they aren’t being replaced by younger generations at the rate we need. By stirring up change in communities that need and eagerly seek it, food-focused nonprofits are rooted in helping the Twin Cities healthfully grow toward a better, more nourished future. Read more…

 

Culture

HOTTEAHOTTEA's work at The Beer Dabbler's Pride event in 2016 // Photo by Aaron Davidson

For a decade, someone has been marking and splashing words and colors on chain-link fences around Minneapolis. Not with spray paint, but with yarn. Yarn is more than just a long, continuous length of interlocked fibers. Quite simply, in a world that seems to be unraveling day by day, Eric Rieger is threading together an impassioned, albeit transient, art form to foster awareness and bring a memorable artistic perspective to the streets. Read more…

 

Chadwick Phillips // Photo by Elliot Malcolm

Chadwick Phillips

For many artists, making a name for themselves can be a challenge. Chadwick “Niles” Phillips, founder and CEO of The Avant Garde, is working to change that by putting a spotlight on up-and-coming artists in the Twin Cities. Inspired by the same principles as its namesake, The Avant Garde supports artists from all disciplines, but its focus is primarily on eclectic, neo-soul artists whose music is inspired by the traditions of African American culture. Read more…

 

James Buckley // Photo by Jason Larkin

James Buckley

Go to Icehouse on any given night, and you won’t be disappointed. There, you will find established artists like Lissie, jeremy messersmith, and Dave Simonett, and up-and-comers getting their first shot at filling the space with music that spans a wide range of genres. A key reason that room is constantly abuzz with thrilling talent is because of James Buckley, who’s been the venue’s talent buyer for the past five years. Read more…

 

Comedian Joe Mande // Photo courtesy Joe Mande

Joe Mande

“I eat, breathe, shit, and fuck comedy,” Mande says in the intro to his comedy special. While that may be true today, the 34-year-old comedian got his first taste, smell, and feel of comedy in front of a far smaller audience at the old Knuckleheads Comedy Club inside the Mall of America back when he was a student at St. Paul Central High School. Whether you realize it or not, chances are Joe Mande has made you laugh. You might recognize his face if you’re familiar with his stand-up (and if you aren’t, you should be) or acting, but the place where he’s really made a splash is behind the scenes as a writer for some of TV’s biggest comedies. Read more…

 

Emma Deaner playing the drums with her band Superior Siren at First Avenue in 2016 // Photo by Thomas Osmonson

Emma Deaner

It’s going to be a busy year for Deaner: She’s involved with a TBA project at the soon-to-reopen NorShor Theatre, and Superior Siren are launching their new album with a series of shows in January. What’s more, Deaner’s joining the Minnesota Music Coalition board of directors with the hope to “help bridge the gap between the metro and the North Shore.” Read more…

 

Local Soccer

Being a truly international sport, soccer is inclusive to Minnesotans of all different backgrounds and ethnicities in a way that the other major sports are not. With amateur teams like St. Paul’s all-Latino Viejos Son Los Trapos FC, who play in the NPSL, players like Ghanaian player Abu Danladi on Minnesota United, and even the annual Hmong Freedom Celebration soccer tournament at Como Park, fans and players across cultures are coming together to back the sport they love. Read more…

 

Baddie’s Comedy Co.

Recognizing that the traditional comedy clubs and open mics in the Twin Cities didn’t spotlight very many black and urban comedians, Bruce Leroy Williams, Brandon Riddley and Pierre Douglas, all of whom have been working to build their own comedy reputations as individuals, opened Baddies in St. Paul in February 2016. Read more…

 

Joe Spencer // Photo by Peter Crouser

Joe Spencer

Joe has been a part of, and a leader within, an administration whose policies have prioritized the arts as a key to a healthy, livable community. This has been demonstrated time and again by Joe’s unwavering support for artists, arts organizations, and audiences. He will continue to contribute to Saint Paul’s vitality in a new role at the Department of Planning and Economic Development. Read more…

 

John Moe, the host of the Hilarious World of Depression Podcast // Photo courtesy of American Public Media

John Moe

For a lot of people, the end of a hugely popular show packed full of famous folks cracking each other up and pop culture puns could drive them to a dark place mentally. For John Moe, it drove him to shine a light on those dark places. “I was surprised that people we reached out to were really open to it,” he says. “We treated everyone really well during ‘Wits,’ which helped, but trying to explain, ‘Hey, come on this podcast that you haven’t heard and bare your soul and it’ll be great!’ wasn’t that easy.” Read more…

 

Kevin Warren

“There’s no limitation for Kevin,” the Super Bowl champion Vermeil was quoted as saying in a recent profile of Warren written by the Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan. “I’ve never been around an administrative executive who was more capable of becoming a Number 1 person in any field.” Read more…

 

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