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Aug 27, 2009 11:30 AM

(MSP) Lenny Russo's Heartland move -- rant, ultimatum or done deal?

Fellow CHers, tell me how you interpret this.

Anyone have any further information? Would you say that the restaurant is moving to Minneapolis after June 2010? Is this an announcement or a threat?

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  1. Hard to tell. I wonder if If Lenny thinks that the Minneapolis City Council is any less wacky? As a life-long Mpls resident, I beg to differ. (Witness the lack of Minneapolis street food as compared to St. Paul.) I hope he decides to stay where he is - I really like Heartland's current location.

    But speaking as the aunt of a beloved niece with a peanut allergy, I think the parent was grossly lax in researching the peanut content of the item in question. My niece's allergy isn't life-threatening (yet), but I NEVER rely on just a server's or counterperson's word on ingredients. We do our research, we talk to the cook, we ask several times about all possible ingredients. And we ALWAYS ask if peanut oil is used.

    It's a shame that the legislator is punishing all restaurants for his mistake. A printed handbook is really overkill. While I like the idea of being easily able to determine whether allergens are in something, I think that a general allergen statement - like the one cited on the Candyland web site - would be quite adequate. If someone needs more information, they should bear some of the responsibility for doing their own research.

    I don't blame Lenny for being pissed. I am, too. And if I were a St. Paul resident, I'd contact my city councilperson to let them know how displeased I am.


    1. I see it as both an announcement and threat.

      His letter/article was extremely well written, IMO, giving all sides of the argument. We don't know for a fact whether or not Councilman Carter was aware that that store's popcorn products were made in a facility that also processed candy with peanuts in them and that the popcorn was made using peanut oil. Councilman Carter did fail to err on the side of caution before buying anything, as it seems as if he never checked out the company's website with its peanut allergy warning clear as a bell.

      While never having owned or run a restaurant, I completely agree with Russo's contention that it would be virtually impossible for him to have this "allergen book" on a daily basis, since their menu changes daily. The legislation is completely overwritten, and it sounds (to me) that Carter didn't do his own due diligence before choosing to buy an allergy-laden product for his daughter, but is now blaming the industry that puts it out there. Not a fair fight at all, and I wouldn't blame Russo for moving his restaurant to Minneapolis if the legislation passes with such restrictions on the restaurant chef/owners.

      1. omg. the sad result of legislation like this is that it favors the chains and penalizes truly unique and awesome restaurants like heartland. it would be so sad if heartland was forced to move, and sadder still if more independent restaurants pulled out of st. paul or never opened locations there. st. paul's downtown area is *just* getting an economic shot in the arm with new independent restaurants moving in, and they stand to wreak all of this potential growth with this ridiculous bill.

        restaurants with local and seasonal menus would be crippled by having to list out all of their ingredients daily, and it would discourage innovation and local sourcing of new ingredients, farmstead products, wildfoods, etc.

        i think russo's column is a threat, but i think the chef probably intends to double-down and move his restaurant if this legislation goes thru. from the industry side of things, this is such an incredible anti-restaurant PITA. i'd move or shut down if we were in st. paul and this got slapped on us. shame on the legislator for not doing due-diligence on the popcorn he fed to his daughter. double-shame on him for trying to make it everyone's problem, and making small-businesses pay the price. russo and his staff at every level are very diligent in accommodating people with allergies and dietary restrictions. his restaurant, heartland, is a treasure. st. paul should treat it like one.

        1. I will cry if either Heartland or Mancini's closes doors in St. Paul.


          1. I'll voice the perhaps unpopular opinion of "rant."

            I don't think the blog reflects particularly well on Russo. It actually makes me less likely continue going to Heartland, which I don't think was his intention.

            Now, I really like Heartland and think that his use of local produce and meats is particularly inspired and his ideals are very much in line with the way that my husband and I eat and how we like to spend our money (supporting local restaurants who in turn support family farms and do something creative with their cuisine).

            However, he starts out basically calling Carter a bad parent, which as a parent I find unpalatable (pun intended? maybe). Yes, I do agree that Carter should probably done a little more research before purchasing something at Candyland. I don't have a child with a peanut allergy (as far as I know, my child is only 10 months old, hasn't had peanuts yet) but I know from friends that you have to be super careful and err on the side of caution if you think there is any possibility of cross-contamination. And candy stores are a pretty obvious place where there would be such a possibility. But Russo's statement that Carter was buying his child "junk food" - which goes beyond whether Carter did his due diligence - was a bit uncalled for, in my opinion.

            Eventually, Russo does go on to make really good points. And I agree with him that the legislation as it was *originally conceived* goes way overboard. But therein lies my biggest beef (gosh the food metaphors are hard to avoid!) with the blog post. The legislation has been pulled for revision! Presumably in response to Russo and the concerns of others that feel that it places an undue burden on business owners in St Paul. I think we can be pretty sure that the city council of St Paul in no way wants to see businesses flee for Minneapolis or the suburbs or close altogether. Russo even admits that his council member was responsive to his concerns. That's how government works and it seems to actually be working in this case, for once.

            I believe Russo and other restaurant owners, and frankly, us as patrons, could be more effective by being involved more- talking to our council members, telling them we think the legislation needs substantial revision. I'm willing to bet that a fair number of chowhounds even live in Carter's district! Throwing up our hands and saying that the city council is effed up and taking our business elsewhere (both as business owners and as patrons) isn't really helping, is it?

            To end with the threat of taking Heartland out of St Paul- which he doesn't really present as a threat, more like a done deal- seems overly childish and pissy. And possibly unnecessary.

            2 Replies
            1. re: turtlebella

              I suppose it's not surprising that I agree with my wife (turtlebella)-- especially given that we talked about Mr. Russo's article before she posted this.

              It seems to me that Russo starts out with a rant, and then by the end of his article, has a more reasoned (and reasonable) position, but then he closes with his "bye-bye St. Paul." Very odd.

              I'd also point out that the account of Mr. Carter's actions (or lack thereof) is from Russo's perspective. It's entirely possible that Carter himself has a different recollection of what took place. So we should be careful about ascribing motivations or making judgements based on an antagonistic 2nd-hand account.

              1. re: turtlebella

                I've read the Russo column in today's Strib, and agree that it appears there has been overreaction on both sides -- Mr. Russo's and Mr. Carter's.

                And I have taken your advice as a St. Paulite and contacted the councilmember involved to let him know what I think.

                It would be a shame to lose Heartland. And if the ordinance involved was portrayed correctly, it would affect many other good places as well.