Kim Bartmann, the creative force behind nearly a dozen local eateries, never intended to end up in the restaurant business. “Restaurants were never part of the plan,” says Bartmann. “I worked in kitchens for several years and essentially vowed I would never work in a restaurant again.”
Now, with more than two decades of industry experience and two James Beard nominations under her belt, Bartmann continues to do what she does best―creating true, natural gathering spaces.
The journey to professional restaurateur and serial entrepreneur began with Bartmann’s first space, Café Wyrd (named after the three Wyrd sisters from Shakespeare’s Macbeth), which inspired the opening of her second venue, the historic Bryant Lake Bowl & Theater. “I wanted to create a place where all of the people I knew from the coffee shop and all of the people I knew who liked to drink beer and wine could be together. I had a friend who ran a theater, and that’s how the BLB was born,” she says.
From there Bartmann went on to forge local favorites such as Barbette, Gigi’s Café and Tiny Diner, each with its own unique shape and feel, character and personality. From Pat’s Tap, the quirky gastropub created as a tribute to her mother, to The Red Stag, an homage to the classic supper clubs the Wisconsin native grew up in, Bartmann has worked to create cohesive concepts that resonate with the restaurant’s respective community.
“I’m really place-driven and space-driven and the cultivation of a space is the goal … It all has to fit together. The food and the neighborhood and the physical space is all meant to be a feeling―a reflection of the place you’re in,” she says.
Each Bartmann project begins with an original vision she’s imagined for the space. From there Bartmann works, often with collaborators, to make that vision a reality. “A lot of my role is really concepting and helping to build the branding and the identity … I really love playing this role.”
Amidst her many roles and responsibilities, Bartmann shows no sign of slowing down. The Bartmann Group recently opened two new spaces and Bartmann regularly works with local restaurateurs to help develop and refine their own concepts. “A couple of years ago I vowed I wasn’t going to open another restaurant, but then I did so maybe no one believes me anymore,” she says.
The self-ascribed “environmentalist” is also a strong advocate for sustainability in her day-to-day work (Bartmann opened Minnesota’s first LEED certified restaurant) and spends her rare time off the clock with her family and focusing on her work in the community. Bartmann is currently the president of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and is working to organize the 2018 national conference taking place in Minneapolis.
“I’m still adjusting to having two little kids. I actually am working right now to try to reorganize my business a bit so that I can focus more on what I’m good at and do more of my community work. It won’t exactly mean slowing down, just doing something different. My grandma always said, ‘A vacation isn’t a lack of activity, it’s a change of activity.’ That’s like a core Wisconsin value, right?”