Back in the day, before Pete and I started what was to become Parasole, we both had jobs that required a great deal of travel – Pete was a marketer for Pillsbury, with key accounts on the West Coast. I was a commercial interior designer with most of my clients in New York City.
I had the better end of the deal, because my clients made it their mission to take this guy from “flyover country” to the city’s finest restaurants. No doubt, they enjoyed exposing me to New York’s culinary riches – while also taking sadistic pleasure from sending me back to meat and potatoes Minnesota (pretty good meat and potatoes, but GEE!), where I’d enthuse about eating pasta with white sauce and this wonder they called “Quiche Lorraine.”
By the way, I suddenly have a memory of when my kids were working at a neighborhood restaurant – maybe Perkins, maybe the Brothers Deli at 50th & France – several years later. It was the early 1980s and the restaurant, having just discovered the dish, introduced it on their menu as “Quiche (pronounced ‘Keesh’) Lorraine.”
Anyway, Pete and I compared our “coastal culinary notes” often enough that one day we thought, “Hey, why not bring some of these East and West Coast ideas to Minnesota?” Thus the birth of Muffuletta, our first restaurant, where we served quiche AND Fettuccine Alfredo.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of travel to the history of Parasole. Figlio restaurant introduced personal-sized pizzas to Minnesota because I’d seen them in Italy. We gave many Twin Citians their first taste of fried calamari after I fell in love with the dish on another trip abroad. I never would have opened Pronto Ristorante if I hadn’t come across a similar restaurant in Geneva, Switzerland. Chino Latino sprang directly from my encounters with street food in Bangkok.
Over time, I became permanently and incurably addicted to the importance of exposing myself and my staff to new ideas, and today travel is a part of Parasole’s DNA. You’ll see here a series of snapshots of our Parasole family traveling to many of the culinary capitals of the world…not just corporate folks…but store managers…bar managers….trainers….cooks and chefs….designers and brand managers and creative folks.
Is travel an extravagance? I’d tell the competition, “Absolutely! Don’t do it! It’s irresponsible!” I can tell YOU, however, that it’s just about the best money a restaurateur can spend. Getting out there and connecting to the wider world helps keep the ideas coming in – and it keeps our customers coming back.