By Jonika Stowes
The Twin Cities is enjoying a restaurant boom with unique eateries offering niche foods and dining experiences. Among them is South Minneapolis’ Funky Grits.
The Black-owned restaurant boasts a menu like none other in the area, with soul food recipes based off of cheesy grits with a twist towards vegan ingredients. But don’t be mistaken — a visit offers something for all palettes, with burgers, sausage and shrimp also on the menu. There are also beer and wine offerings for those inclined.
Entrepreneurship runs in owner Jared Brewington’s blood. His great grandfather was self-employed, and his father, Mark Brewington, owned Rib Cage in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in South Minneapolis.
He credits that legacy, along with his commitment to the community, for opening his storefront on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. He and his five siblings grew up blocks away on 42nd Street, where his father also worked in real estate at Bailey Realty Company on 45th Street and 4th Avenue.
“This history means a lot to me,” said Brewington. “I’m from here, exist here, and I want to have my business here. That’s all I remember growing up is historical Black businesses up and down 38th street,” said Brewington. “My biggest fight is showing people there’s a resource and a consistency on this corner that’s full of beaming love, and this community is wide open in diversity, love and acceptance.”
First starting out as a pop-up, the business took four years to open its doors. Brewington gained notoriety and a hungry consumer base with showings at venues like the 2018 Super Bowl. He also tried opening at a location on Lyndale Avenue, which led to delays. He experienced more delays dealing with plumbing and funding issues when he finally found the current location, but he never gave up.
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He and his former business partner and chef Jordan Carlson pushed through, opening August of last year. With a ‘70s Tupperware vision, he hired Jim Smart of Smart Associates to design the restaurant’s bright interior, and he did the construction himself.
Carlson assisted with the restaurant’s build-out and pop up locations. “I’ve always been the majority owner,” said Brewington. According to him, the partnership separation cleared the way for his new African American chef Portia, who brings cultural sensitivities to cooking that supports the direction in which he wants Funky Grits to head.
For Brewington, the major areas where he had to bring in expertise were in high-level finances and labor modeling. He admitted, however, that one of the challenges was labor management when the eatery opened.
“Accountability is not the same across the board. A 17-year-old’s version of accountability is different than a 36-year-old’s, and they both could be not the ones you’d think,” said Brewington through laughter, speaking of employee call-outs and not showing up for shifts. He now successfully employs between 14 and 20 people.
Jordan Brewington, Jared’s younger brother, has also come on to help in the kitchen. “He’s the rock — us Brewingtons have a work ethic,” said Jared.
He also counts on support from his mentors: Brent Frederick of Minneapolis’ Jester Concepts as his restaurant mentor, and the retired CTO of Cargill and Ron Christenson, former board chair of Compatible Technology International (CTI), is his nonprofit mentor.
The restaurant business represents a major shift for Brewington, who has worked a wide range of jobs, including telecommunications as one of the first few hundred employees of Quest Communications. He then fell in love with start-up companies and the service side of high-end technology, and then found himself in real estate finances. It was then that he opened his own construction business building homes, which led him into renewable energy as a consultant and adviser to businesses.
Brewington also sits on the board of CTI. The nonprofit provides African women farmers with access to innovative post-harvest tools for sustainable food production.
“In the entrepreneurial world, you pick up many skills and often take that new skill and move on, not sit on the line all day, and maybe be more on the macro side,” said Brewington. “The things I’ve learned along the way have combined for something else.”
It’s also a stark departure from the 20-acre outskirt farm community from which he commutes daily into the heart of the Minneapolis Kingfield neighborhood. Brewington said he has longed for rural life since he was a kid with wide-open spaces, pastures and woods. This is his quiet space with his pets and family.
Right now, he’s shaking hands with a first-time customer who’s raving over a Funky Grits dish he just enjoyed.
Funky Grits is located at 805 E. 38th Street in Minneapolis. For more info, visit funkygrits.com.
This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman – Recorder.