Ann Kim changed the culinary landscape both locally and nationally when she debuted her neighborhood pizza joint, Pizzeria Lola, in 2010. It was an immediate critical success and fan favorite, with raves cascading across the Twin Cities. Most notable was her Korean BBQ pizza and her housemade kimchi. Her inventiveness led to James Beard nods, and quickly her empire spun out two more eateries: Hello Pizza and Young Joni.
“The restaurants are like siblings,” she explains. “They come from the same family and DNA, but they all have different personalities.”
Each spot is guided by the same principles: collaborating, staying curious and practicing a craft. “What I love about craft is the constant pursuit of mastery,” Kim says. “It’s about focus, repetition, practice and striving to get better. Craft is also a preservation of heritage and tradition, something I value.” Which is why, for example, she went so far as to videotape her mother making kimchi in order to pick up the subtleties of the process since no written recipe existed.
In many ways, she’s cooking her family’s immigrant story into the North’s foodways. “It can be a big burden to bear to live up to parents’ expectations,” she notes. “But I am this way because of them. They made sure we understood that if you work hard, if you’re a good person and if you stick to your values, you can do whatever you want.”
And now, she’s stepping outside her pizza comfort zone for her forthcoming concept that will launch in the former Lucia’s spot in Uptown Minneapolis. Her goal? To do for the tortilla what she did for pizza dough. Instead of learning the physical and emotional craft of kimchi, handed down through her family for generations, this time she traveled to Mexico to learn something completely new: how to make the perfect tortilla. “The individuals I learned from made it look so easy, like a beautifully choreographed dance,” she says. “But I quickly realized that it isn’t simple. It was very humbling. It’s a challenge to make simple food taste really good because every detail matters — you can’t hide. It’s all about addition by subtraction.”
Her subtraction has certainly added to the North’s culinary collective. That and her life lessons, which apply no matter what challenge she tackles: “We’re all capable of far more than we think we can achieve,” she muses. “It’s as simple as this: Make choices from love, not fear. Trust your gut. Ask lots of questions. Stay humble. And never make the same mistake twice.”