MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When you tell the story of Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson’s Chef Shack, you have to start with the mini-donuts.

It was the summer of 2007. Carrie and Lisa’s friend Brenda Langton wanted them to be at her Mill City Farmers Market.

Both were veterans of four-star restaurants. They had fallen in love at Cafe Barbette.

It didn’t take long before their mini-donuts garnered a following.

“[Carlson] was very hesitant,” Summer said. “But I said, ‘This is the next thing, I think this is next thing’…Sure enough, wow, it was.”

Those beautiful, Indian-spiced donuts became the hit of the market. They earned enough money to buy a trailer and start Chef Shack.

“At that time, banks weren’t lending, so this was perfect for us,” Summer said.

They launched the food truck movement here, first working in parking lots at farmers markets, then helping change Minneapolis law to bringing gourmet world food to the streets.

“We don’t cook anything we personally wouldn’t eat,” Summer said. “Everything we source I have to stand behind 100 percent.”

Years later, these pioneers have three trucks and two restaurants: Chef Shack Ranch on East Franklin near the river in Minneapolis; and Chef Shack Bay City in Wisconsin.

How do they manage it all?

“We’re not open every second,” Carlson said. “We’re not open breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Workers are off Monday, Tuesday, and half of Wednesdays. It’s about a work-life balance, one that fits in with Carlson and Summer’s overall attitude towards restaurants and leadership.

The two want to change the culture inside restaurants, which they say are often testosterone-filled clubs for men.

“We roll a little differently,” Carlson said.

“We’re cowgirls,” Summer added, laughing.

The two are helping lead locally and nationally with the National Organization of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs.

“We need to share information, help each other out and raise each other up,” Carlson said.

Issues like maternity leave, paid sick time, and day care for children are all on their radar.

Their food stands on its own – the bison burger is incredible, the smoked brisket is among the best in Minnesota – but the impact they’re already having goes way beyond the plate.

“We were encouraging with the food trucks, we helped pass the ordinance, there’s 300 food trucks now in Minnesota, it’s a thriving business and a platform for a lot of people to make some money,” Summer said. “Now our next layer for legacy is opening the door for our female colleagues.”

Chef Shack Ranch, 3025 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis MN 55406
Open Wed-Sat 5-10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Chef Shack Bay City, Opens April 2016, 6379 Main Street, Bay City, WI

Jason DeRusha

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