It was an idea that, like many great ideas, sprung from a night around a kitchen table.
Out of the ashes of a pandemic that has left many businesses without a rudder, take the leap. And open a restaurant.
Wait. Open a restaurant?
“It was a few people from the service industry sitting around the table one night. And we thought, ‘Why not us?’” said co-owner Benedict Frank. “So many restaurants and service businesses have this model where it’s hard on the families involved. And it’s hard to survive a rough economy. But what if we came up with a model that could change that, and while doing it, do what we wanted to do? And what if we could do it while providing great food and service to our communities?”
So, with the window open – thanks to so many doors that were shutting – Frank and his wife, Amanda, along with Matt and Becky Taus – decided to make a dream reality, in the strangest of circumstances.
First – the business. The Hen & The Hog (named for the proteins, yes) is comfort food and regional dishes brought to a growing community by people experienced in the food business. Amanda worked, most recently, as a server at Brick and Bourbon restaurant in Maple Grove where, coincidentally, Matt was a manager. Ben – who has become an artist as “culinary director” and creates some of the main dishes at the new eatery – ran his own business, but was happy to take his talents into the new venture. And Becky, who is a massage therapist, brings the business acumen to H&H.
“It’s a situation where, because we have two families, we can look out for each other,” Matt said. “If you’re doing it on your own, you never get that vacation. You’re married to the restaurant. In this situation, if one of us needs to cover for the other family, we’re there.”
The two couples have hired other cooks and servers to assist, thanks in part of a shutdown of the industry in December that allowed them to get their “ducks in a row.”
“We fired up and immediately we were doing takeout orders, and it wasn’t long before we were selling out the night,” Ben said. “Word of mouth spread that quickly. But the takeout process allowed us to get the kitchen in order and the sales system working, and it wasn’t long before we were ready to open the doors.”
Other factors helped as well – The Hen & The Hog is located in a familiar spot that has been home to restaurants such as Patti J’s and Prairie Run, most recently as Outlaw. Again, the Tauses and Franks think they have the recipe to make the spot – which some might see as “jinxed” – work for them.
“There’s still a community need. Everyone wants a good place to grab something to eat. You see it on every community bulletin board on social media,” Amanda said. “Really, the COVID shutdown in the last part of the year was a bit of a blessing. We had time to make the spot our own and make it work for us. And we used that time to rally up a lot of support.”
Ben asked questions of friends and community members on Facebook. All four started developing a menu. And, as things took shape, they even had time to plan for the future.
So, what’s good at The Hen & The Hog? Everything. After all, 95 percent of the meals are made from scratch. The Minnesota Wontons are incredible – featuring pickle, corned beef pastrami, cream cheese and seasoning inside a wonton wrap. It’s a party favorite gone to the comfort food kings. The H&H cheeseburger has quickly become a hot item. And speaking of hot, the Flaming Hen sandwich has people thinking of Nashville even when it’s -10 here in STMA.
Other highlights include mac and cheese, bacon wrapped meatloaf and some special items like a pork tenderloin sandwich or New York Strip (for Valentine’s Day) that make any outing great.
Why did H&H pick STMA? All four have ties to the community, raising their kids here. Ben and Amanda both graduated from STMA in the early 2000s. Matt graduated from Elk River, and moved to STMA in 2017.
“It’s been such a supportive community. People want to see you succeed. They’ll give you a bit of grief about the location – but they want you to make it work,” Matt said.
As for the future – The Hen & The Hog hopes to be a community player. They’ve given back, already, by paying it forward to teachers and healthcare workers with specials and gift cards. And, as they grow, they may be looking to lease more space in the mall on Kyler Avenue, just southwest of the intersection of County Roads 18 and 19 in STMA.
“We really care about the community. We have a list of about 1,000 ideas of how we can be a bigger part of it and really grow as STMA grows.” Matt said. “People have expectations of what you can bring – literally – to the table. We hope to meet and exceed that. And if we can do that we’ll be just fine.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Hen & The Hog
Where: 5262 Kyler Ave. NE, Albertville, MN
Who: Owners Benedict and Amanda Frank & Matt and Becky Taus
When: Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Weekend brunch hours posted on Facebook.
More information: thehenandthehog.com