In the mid-80s, Molly and Tom Broder were not sure if their restaurant was going to make it. The pretty bottles of balsamic vinegar and olive oil at Broders’ Cucina Italiana just weren’t selling.
“We were on the precipice of losing our shirt for four years,” Molly said. “We said this is the last year — if it doesn’t work we’re going to close it.”
Everything changed when they bought pizza ovens. Guys came in for the pizza, and more customers started lining up for takeout food.
Molly’s experiences as a small business owner give her empathy for others breaking into the business. She remembers selling the house and renting for years in order to pour resources into the restaurant.
“Most small businesses have thrown in their lot. They have thrown in everything they have,” she said. “I care deeply about the small business community because I know what they’re going through. Many don’t make it.”
The Minnesota Restaurant Association recently named Molly Legislative Advocate of the Year. She worked to rally voters to pass a referendum allowing wine bars to exit a city charter that required sales ratios of 70 percent food to 30 percent alcohol. Molly fundraised, publicized the issue and hosted strategy sessions with other restaurateurs. They expected strong opposition, but it never materialized, and the referendum passed with 83.5 percent approval.
“It really was a full-time job,” she said.
Before Tom and Molly decided to throw their lot into the restaurant business, Molly had a background in communications. She worked as a photographer for Gov. Rudy Perpich, and she worked in communications for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Chicago. Tom had a master’s in sociology, but he always had a passion for restaurants.
“It wasn’t my idea to do the food business,” Molly said.
They imported equipment from Italy that allowed them to make fresh pasta on a mass scale, and focused on authentic Italian cooking with artisan ingredients.
“Back in those days, Minneapolis needed it. Not anymore,” she said with a laugh.
Molly remembers giving her sons pizza dough to play with while she took down catering orders. All three Broder sons have spent time in the family business.
“It just got in their blood,” she said.
Thomas Jr. is executive chef. Charlie became general manager and Terzo wine curator. Daniel worked at restaurants in Italy and came home when Molly started Terzo, saying “I’ve got to be part of this.” He’s currently studying urban agriculture.
Molly said her family has become very close over the years. The same week they opened the Pasta Bar in 1994, Tom went to the hospital with heart arrhythmia. Molly said Thomas Jr. was turning 11 at the time, and he helped bus tables and did whatever he could to help out.
Tom died in 2008. A tree in Pershing Park is planted in his honor.
“When you have these life or death issues in your world, you start to realize what’s really important,” Molly said. “It brings you closer together.”
Molly has accepted three awards in the span of a month, including the “Woman Pioneer” award from the National Association of Women Business Owners’ Minnesota chapter. The Lifetime Achievement Award at Minneapolis’ Charlie Awards was a complete surprise to Molly. She sat unsuspecting in the audience until a video documenting her life started to play on the screen.
After more than 30 years in the restaurant business, Molly is still inspired by farm-to-table restaurateurs, travels to Italy and the slow food movement.
“There is always something to learn,” she said. “There is always a reason to be inspired.”