Opening a new restaurant in the same space that served as a St. Paul favorite for local diners, politicians and the great, ‘Miracle man’ Herb Brooks certainly comes with its share of pressure. But two lifelong friends are treading with respect and hoping their simple approach appeals to the neighborhood.
Great food, great service and an everyone-is-welcome atmosphere is the main focus of the new Cook St. Paul, which opens Thursday in the former Serlin’s Cafe. It sounds simple enough but the passion behind it is what will set it apart.
“We like that it’s a neighborhood restaurant. We’re in our mid-30s, we have kids and we’re married – we don’t want to be in Lowertown or pretty much most of Minneapolis. We’re catering to a different demographic,” said co-owner Eddie Wu. “We want quality food, quality service and that’s what we care about most. And that really flourishes in this type of environment.”
That high-quality food means he and fellow co-owner Charles Cook are focusing on the ingredients — with bread, sausage and more, made from scratch. Whatever isn’t crafted 100 percent from their kitchen will be bought locally — and organic, whenever possible, Cook said.
“It’s all-American. We got a straight, American-diner menu. We’ve got everything from just regular pancakes and eggs to short ribs eggs benedict,” he said.
Cook St. Paul will feature an array of classic breakfast items, with quality you can taste, from duroc bacon to extra fluffy pancakes with real maple syrup. The lunch items are classic diner-style, from a commercial hoagie to their staple dark-ale beer battered walleye sandwich. Wu adds there will be a few Korean options, as well.
“My thing is just that, I don’t like to go to places where I can’t pronounce anything,” Cook said. “I don’t like to explain it to everyone else there. I just want stuff that people are comfortable eating, knows what it is and where the quality is just good.”
Cook, most recently the chief operating officer for Cossetta, has been cooking since he was 15 years old — shortly after he got his buddy Wu a job as a dishwasher at the same restaurant.
The two have known each other since kindergarten and always kept in touch, even as their lives went in different directions. Wu joined the Marines and moved away for 12 years while Cook stayed in the area, focusing on his culinary skills.
Both have always enjoyed a good meal, at a good price, and are anxious to share those values with the local eastsiders — and beyond.
The small, 48-seat restaurant has a fresh coat of paint, a new creative logo, a new bathroom and some modern light fixtures but the establishment’s history remains. A framed article on the back wall celebrates Serlin Cafe’s legacy, they hired one of Serlin’s former waitresses and the new name itself gives a nod to its roots.
Cook St. Paul, Wu said, is a reminder to an old saying of its previous owners — “We’re not chefs, we’re just cooks.” Luckily for them, it also conveniently incorporates the duo’s kitchen leader.
“We’re not coming in and trying to be over the top,” he said. “We’re just saying, ‘Hey, if you did this, we think this is probably how you’d want it done.’ That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Cook St. Paul opens Thursday on 1124 Payne Ave. in St. Paul. For more information, check out their website.