MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — They were told to not open a cafeteria-style restaurant. They were told that people would not wait in line. But for more than 30 years, people have lined up inside Peter and Linda Quinn’s Café Latte in St. Paul.
“It works,” Peter Quinn said.
“It’s social, people love it,” Linda Quinn said.
The Quinns opened the cafeteria-style restaurant in 1984. They had success with a Häagen-Dazs restaurant on Grand Avenue, and their restaurant Bread & Chocolate. When the Minnesota Opera left their space at Grand and Victoria Street, the Quinns created a different kind of stage.
“What we wanted to do is put high quality, attractive food products in front of people and let them make a decision whether to buy it or not,” Peter Quinn said.
There are beautiful salads with grains like quinoa and farro, grains virtually no one had heard of in the ’80s, and homemade soups inspired by the Quinns’ travels in Asia and the Southwest United States.
But Linda Quinn’s desserts put Cafe Latte on the map. The legendary turtle cake is her mom’s recipe. The tres leches cake is now the top seller.
“What’s not to like about cream, whipped cream, raspberries? It’s fun. It’s comforting,” she said.
On a busy weekend, the bakery whips up more than 100 vanilla tres leches cakes. The wedding and event business continues to grow as the traditional multi-layer cake has fallen out of style.
The food is fresh and healthy. But the Quinns’ friends worried about the concept.
“We were told to be careful with cafeteria style, because it brings up less-than-memorable meals you got in school,” Peter Quinn said.
Now fast-casual is the hottest trend in food. Café Latte was also ahead of its time by going smoke-free 23 years before Minnesota passed the smoking ban.
The Quinn’s son Bryce, who grew up in his family’s restaurant, now helps run it.
“I like the energy, I like the action,” he said. “I was about two when they opened. I had my share of accidents, one time I flipped over the railing up front. That was really fun.”
Over the years, Bryce Quinn has become passionate about wine, and his drive has helped make the list at the pizza and wine bar in the back of the restaurant one of the best secrets in town. He selects wines that would retail at liquor stores for $40-$60 and prices them at $15 by the glass, so people can expand their horizons.
“I do 30 wines by the glass,” he said.
A second-generation Quinn is serving second generations of original customers. A family tradition- keeps on cooking.
“I like all the people,” Linda Quinn said. This restaurant, “It’s our life.”
850 Grand Avenue, St. Paul
Café Latte Tres Leche Cake Recipe
¼ cup canola oil
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup buttermilk
Oil and flour one 8” round pan. Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Combine oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to oil mixture. Then add buttermilk and mix. Pour into the round pan, bake for 20-25 minutes.
½ can (4 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half and half
¼ teaspoon vanilla
Combine with whisk. When cake layer is cool, slice in half so you have 2 8” round layers. Arrange cut side up. Pour soaking liquid over the cake layers.
4 cups heavy whipping cream
½ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
Whip until cream is very stiff. Place one layer on a cake plate. Top with 1/3 of the whipped cream, then smoothen it. Place second layer on top of the whipped cream, top with 1/3 of the whipped cream and smoothen it. Frost sides with the remaining whipped cream, and garnish with fresh raspberries.