When I sat down with Justin and Becky Ahlstrom last month outside their restaurant in Andover, I felt so much hope and optimism. They are exactly the people you want opening a restaurant in your community – kind, driven, thoughtful, and pragmatic. They are aware of what they are up against. But they are choosing to look at their long-term goals – opening a place for their community to gather and they are okay altering their plans until life, and COVID, says it is safe.
I’ll be honest, I was shocked when the post showed up in my Instagram feed.
“Our friends opened a restaurant, Margie’s Kitchen & Cocktails! Tonight was the first night for the test kitchen!" the caption read.
Opening a restaurant? During COVID? What brave souls take on that challenge?
Andover’s newest restaurant is the pride and joy of Justin and Becky Ahlstrom and was in the works well before COVID changed the restaurant landscape forever. The inspiration behind this scratch kitchen concept? Margie Lindstrand, a 91-year-old grandmother from Winthrop, Minnesota – a town of 1,400 located 70 miles southwest of the Twin Cities in Sibley county.
Margie is Justin’s grandmother and for nearly 40 years she owned and operated Lyle’s Cafe, a tiny diner on the main drag in Winthrop. It was in that quaint, family eatery that Justin first fell in love with the restaurant industry.
“As soon as I could work, I got a job washing dishes and did every job possible in the restaurant,” he said. “After college, I managed Don Pablo’s for a couple of years. And then I just had to prove to myself that I could work in the corporate world. So that's what I've been doing for the last 15 years. But it's always been the back of my mind, like I wanted to build up or open a place.”
Last October, that idea took a giant step forward. A vacant storefront in a prime location had caught Justin’s eye – a former gym that had been closed for about six months. It was close to the Ahlstroms’ home and had ample parking. While discussing his dream with friends at a Halloween party, Margie’s was born.
“That night, I decided in my heart that we were going to do this,” he said.
The city of Andover has around 20 restaurants, many of which are fast food chains, so when deciding on a concept, the Ahlstroms were committed to bringing something different to the neighborhood.
“We’re a scratch kitchen,” Becky said. “We’re really trying to create some creative, a bit more adventurous food.”
Head chef Diego Chalco-Quinteros joined the team full time in April and spent the summer working to perfect Margie’s menu before their early September opening. The highlight? Gourmet burgers featuring housemade pepper jelly and chimichurri aioli and scratch dough pizzas baked in a Marra Fornia brick-fired oven with both gluten-free crusts and vegan cheese as substitutions.
The pizza that immediately caught my eye is called "Grandma's Jokes."
Described as "Pretty Corny, A Little Spicy," the pie features Monterey jack cheese, roasted corn and jalapeño relish, chipotle cream, cotija cheese and tomatillo cream. Not your average ‘za and definitely not something you are getting delivered from a chain spot.
“We started to realize as we met more and more people that this is something that this community really needs,” Becky said.
The family’s focus on the community is what kept them motivated during COVID-related setbacks. They have lived in Andover for 13 years, moving to the northern suburb after having their first child (Becky grew up in the area and graduated from Anoka High School).
They see Margie’s as an investment, not only for their future but the future of Andover, a gathering space they might not be able to fully utilize right now but have big plans. An events space that will one day host live music and private events now gives the restaurant the extra space they need to adhere to state guidelines for capacity and spacing.
“We want to make sure that we are providing the safest possible environment for people that are looking to eat not in their home,” Becky said, adding that Margie’s plans to stay committed to curbside orders for guests who aren’t comfortable dining inside. Heaters for their outdoor patio will be installed this week to help extend the outdoor dining season as long as possible.
Margie’s Kitchen & Cocktails is open for dinner service Wednesday through Sunday right now but there are plans in place for brunch service in the future.
“We wanted to kind of start in a controlled, staff-able way and really grow into what the community needs,” Justin said.
Margie’s Kitchen & Cocktails is located at the corner of Round Lake Blvd. and Bunker Lake Blvd. in Andover (13735 Round Lake Blvd.). The phone number is 763-205-4762 and the website is www.margies-kitchen.com.