(Minneapolis, St. Paul) – Chef Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur, co-founders of Vestalia Hospitality, today announced their plans to open a new restaurant in Uptown’s iconic Lucia’s Restaurant and Wine Bar space, located at 1432 West 31st Street in Minneapolis. Plans are underway to create a Mexican-inspired restaurant honoring the craft of handmade tortillas while incorporating Kim’s passion for bold, rich and deep flavors.
In this new venture, Kim is turning her attention from pizza to tortillas. Eight years ago, when dismayed at how difficult it was to find exactly what she craved in a pizza crust, she studied the craft of pizza and opened Pizzeria Lola. Now, it is her love of fresh, handmade nixtamal tortillas that has inspired her to study the techniques of traditional tortilla making, a cornerstone of the new restaurant. “The first time I tried a corn tortilla made with heirloom blue corn was in Valle de Guadalupe. I almost cried because it was unlike anything I had ever tasted,” recalls Kim. “How could this be a corn tortilla? I had an epiphany: The difference between fresh, traditionally made tortillas and what most of us wrap around our tacos is the difference between a frozen pizza crust and the blistered, airy, charred, imperfectly round pizza crust, fragrant with hardwood smoke from a wood burning pizza oven. That’s when I decided my next mission is to re-create this tortilla experience.”
“We’re deep into the research and development phase and exploring many exciting possibilities,” says Kim. “There is a lot yet to be defined, but some things are clear. It will be inspired by my love for Mexican flavors that go beyond chips and salsa. There will be chile heat and a cooking fire. There will be experimentation with equatorial ingredients, not necessarily limited to the Americas. There will be an emphasis on the craft behind deceptively simple foods which are fairly complex to make correctly. You might even see a little hint of my signature Korean influence here and there.”
The entire Lucia’s footprint - the former restaurant, wine bar and bakery spaces - will be reimagined and transformed over the next year. Studio MAI, the visionary Los Angeles-based design firm behind Young Joni, is on board to design the space. Construction is expected to begin this fall and a summer 2019 opening is anticipated.
Vestalia Hospitality is the parent company of Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza and Young Joni. Guided by the creative and strategic vision of its founders, Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur, what was once a “mom and pop” team of two has grown into a leadership team of eight. The namesake, the Roman festival of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, home and family serves as a metaphor for Vestalia Hospitality’s vision to create a culture of warmth, community, and celebration for guests and team members. More at www.vestaliahospitality.com.
Ann Kim is the Chef / Owner of Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza and Young Joni. A Korean immigrant, she credits her culinary palate to helping her mother and grandmother at an early age make traditional staples such as fermented bean paste and kimchi. In 2010 she opened her first restaurant, Pizzeria Lola, an artisan wood fired pizzeria that has been lauded both locally and nationally. Her second restaurant, Hello Pizza, is an East Coast inspired slice shop and frequently tops Best of Lists. Young Joni, which opened in late 2016, features an eclectic wood fire-inspired menu and has been named one of the Best New Restaurants in America 2017 by GQ and Eater National. Most recently, the Minneapolis Star Tribune named Young Joni 2017 Restaurant of the Year. Kim received her first James Beard Award semifinalist nomination in 2017 and was a 2018 finalist in the category of “Best Chef Midwest.”
Conrad Leifur is the Owner / CFO of Vestalia Hospitality. He was raised in North Dakota, graduated from Yale University and earned an MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. He worked as an analyst and in leadership positions for financial companies including Aetna, IDS, American Express, Piper Jaffray, and Black River Asset Management before devoting himself full time to restaurant ownership in 2010.