Pedal Pushers Cafe

6 08 2009

by Sarah Milnar

Pedal Pushers Cafe - by Meredith HartTwo-year-old Jack Taylor scooted himself up onto a bench in Pedal Pushers Café. “Choo-chooo,” he murmured as he ran Thomas the Tank Engine’s wheels over a fork, which shot out from under the plastic train and made a clinking noise as it landed on the floor. His father scooped him up and sat him down in front of a steaming hamburger and roasted baby red potatoes. His mother, Angie, balanced Jack’s 11-month-old brother, Nick, on her knee and grabbed a potato off the plate. Jack grinned from across the table.

Scott and Angie Taylor gathered for a quick bite to eat with their family between shifts at Pedal Pushers Café, the 1950’s-style restaurant they own and operate in Lanesboro, Minnesota. They call it “The ‘good for you burger’ joint.” The Taylors have made it their mission to feed their customers the same good, healthy foods they feed their children – and they do it by sourcing locally.

“I love knowing where everything comes from,” said Angie, who beams with excitement when she can point out the source of just about everything on Pedal Pushers’ menu. But between managing a restaurant that serves 60,000 to 70,000 people a year, 12 hours a day, seven days a week and chasing her children up and down the stairs to their home above the restaurant, there’s no question about it – this woman’s got energy.

Angie leaned forward on the table, intent to share her zeal for local foods while keeping a scanning eye on tables to be cleared, coffee cups to be topped off, and her children. Angie began her career in restaurants as a teenage waitress in her hometown of Preston, Minnesota, and continued serving her way through college. But after 25 years of managing other people’s establishments, Angie decided it was time to start a restaurant of her own. In February of 2005, Angie opened Pedal Pushers Café at the site of an 1880’s general store. Two years later, Scott, a former financial consultant with a flair for food, took over as head chef.

Scott and Angie always knew they wanted to avoid the big industrial restaurant scene. But the push to go back to basics began when Scott read the label on the box of frozen chicken nuggets his kids were begging him to make multiple times a day. He had no idea what some of the ingredients were.

“It’s supposed to taste like food. It’s supposed to be food,” Angie said. “People have forgotten what real food tastes like.”

In efforts to wean the community back onto real food, the Taylors make everything on their menu from scratch. But the push to go local came one day when Angie ran out of eggs and had to make a last minute run to the Lanesboro Farmers’ Market. She bought brown eggs from Sara Austin of Hilltop Pastures Family Farm, and was impressed by the rich color and superb taste. Farm fresh eggs led to local produce, and local produce to grass-fed meats as Angie discovered the homegrown possibilities of the Farmers’ Market.

Inside Pedal Pushers - by Meredith HartPedal Pushers began to localize their menu in 2006, but when a couple asked them to cater their wedding with 100 percent local foods, an idea struck Scott and Angie. Could Pedal Pushers go completely local? Now the Taylors have changed their menu to use local produce when it’s in season and all locally grown, grass-fed meats. Their breakfasts are 100 percent local. Saturday nights bring the “Lanesboro Local” special featuring items from the Farmers’ Market. Although some U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations keep Pedal Pushers from using all locally made items, Scott and Angie decided there’s no going back.

“It’s gonna happen. It’s on the list,” said Angie, throwing her hands up and drawing the list in the air. “Being willing to accept new ideas is what makes it possible,” Scott added.

Now Angie is constantly on the phone coordinating orders with 10 to 12 different farms and praying that the weather warms up so everyone’s tomatoes will ripen. Sometimes she’ll wake up in the middle of the night fearing she’s missing an item for the coming week. Buying locally is slightly unpredictable and a bit more stressful than relying solely on a corporate food vendor, but the Taylors agree it’s worth it.

“We’re developing enough relationships to realize this stuff is out there,” said Angie. “We want to serve real food, and you need to work with the farmers to do that to the fullest extent.”

It’s those bonds with the farmers and her community that make the late nights, early mornings, and frantic last minute phone calls worth it. Often times farmers and their families will drop by for a piece of Angie’s home baked chocolate cream pie and a cup of Peruvian Fair Trade Organic coffee that’s fresh roasted on site.

“I love when my customers are giving me my food,” said Angie.

Angie also loves knowing peoples faces. Meeting the farmers face to face brings Pedal Pushers’ local mission full circle. But in a historic town whose revenue comes half from agriculture and half from tourism, Angie is quick to strike up a conversation with a family of out-of-towners. And she can barely drive down the street without waving keenly at a familiar passing driver. Scott and Angie have built such a friendly reputation around Pedal Pushers that they have a strong group of regulars. A crew of white-haired fellows help themselves to coffee each day around 3 p.m. They leave exact change in the back and sit on a bench outside the restaurant to shoot the breeze.

But Angie and Scott know their customers appreciate the quality of the food. “The satisfaction is seeing customers come back because they’re choosing a healthier option,” said Angie.

Pedal Pushers PlateThat steaming plate Scott made up for his family was certainly an option healthier than most. A grass-fed burger from Tom and Sara Austin’s Hilltop Pastures rested on a whole-wheat bun from the Franklin Street Bakery of Minneapolis. Scott topped the burger with tomatoes from the Peterson farm of Anita and Keith Brown, leaf lettuce from Andrea Mueller of Green Compass Farm, and onions from Nancy Gardener of Preston. Nancy also provided the baby red potatoes, which are Pedal Pusher’s second most popular side order behind their fresh cut French fries. The cabbage of the sweetened coleslaw came from Anita and Harvey Bue of Peterson. The family washed down each bite with smooth skim milk from Bob and Jeanette Kappers’ Big Red Barn in Chatfield.

To the Taylors, the local food featured on their menu isn’t just from farmers, but from friends. Now and then Scott and Angie eat dinner with the Austins of Hilltop Pastures, and their children play together.

“These are the relationships we built,” said Angie. “These are the families Scott and I decided we want to support and work with.”

But customers agree it’s the Taylor family that is making Pedal Pushers such a Lanesboro tradition. Angie’s daughters Katlyn, 12, and Allyson, 10, are beginning to help out in the café. Customers are watching little Jack and Nick grow up. The Taylors are constantly working to open the doors of their restaurant and home to the community.

“We’ve got a six-member family that we’re extending to 600,” said Angie. “We don’t know how many people it’s touched.”

To view more photos, please see the Pedal Pushers slideshow.

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One response

14 08 2009
Jeanette Kappers

We are not organic, but we are substainable.

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