Tom Broder, pioneer of Italian dining in Minneapolis, dies

Tom Broder knew food, cherished food and understood food. Friends and family fondly remember lunches with cold ricotta and dinners where something new — new grilling methods or new ingredients — was always on the menu.

“The man loved food,” friend Jay Sparks said.

Broder, the owner and founder of Broders’ Cucina Italiana and Broders’ Pasta Bar, died July 5 of a life-long heart condition. He was 59.

Broder’s son, Thomas Broder Jr., said his father discovered a love for Italian food while growing up in New York. A friend’s family, whose dinners the elder Broder often would partake in, introduced him to authentic Italian ingredients and flavors, and he was sold for life. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at St. Louis University — during which time he met his wife of 37 years, Molly — and furthered his education during travels to Italy.

In 1982, Broder and his wife opened Broders’ Cucina Italiana at 50th Street & Penn Avenue.

“Tom was a pioneer in so many ways,” Sparks said. “[He and his wife] were bringing in ingredients and Italian delicatessen that were more than just your regular Italian-American fare.”

In 1994, the Broders opened the pasta bar, for which they brought equipment to Minneapolis from Italy to produce fresh pasta on-site. Disappointed to find restaurants could not sell liquor south of Lake Street, Broder collected thousands of signatures in 1996 and successfully petitioned the state Legislature and the city to change the law.

Restaurant-goers likely will remember him best for bringing mouth-watering flavors and eye-popping dishes to Southwest. Those closest to him will remember him for his integrity. And love.

Thomas Broder said family was all-important to his father. The Broders — father, mother and three sons — always had dinner together.

“It wasn’t just a time to nourish the body,” Thomas Broder said. “It was a time to nourish the soul.”

The family also nourished its work, said Sparks, executive chef at Campiello.

“They absolutely wanted to do the best,” he said. “They didn’t want to be the best — they wanted to do the best.”

Broder always was eager to help, even if those receiving it were chefs that didn’t work at his businesses. When Sparks was set to travel to Italy 20 years ago, Broder connected him with people and ideas Sparks gladly credits with making him a better chef.

“I saw some dishes I never would have seen had it not been for him,” Sparks said.

After Broder suffered a heart attack in 1994, mere days before the pasta bar’s debut, the family stepped in to keep the business on track. And after he received a heart transplant four years later, his wife took over much of the day-to-day business, without complaint. She’s expected to continue in that role.

All three of their sons have followed closely in their father’s footsteps. Thomas, the eldest son, is executive chef at Broders’ Cucina Italiana. Middle son Charlie helps out at both businesses, and youngest son Danny had just left for culinary school when he learned of his father’s death.

Fellow Southwest restaurateurs say Broder will be missed, for his steadfast personality and for his great sense of flavors.

“That Broders’ Pasta Bar, that’s a good restaurant,” said Larry D’Amico, president of D’Amico and Partners. “That’s a good restaurant.”

Broder is survived by his wife; sons; and brothers Michael and Chris Broder and Jim and Terry Gahan. (Note: Terry Gahan is co-publisher and president of Minnesota Premier Publications, publisher of the Southwest Journal.) Broder’s father, mother and stepmother and a sister died earlier.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be sent to the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, 920 E. 28th St., Minneapolis, MN 55407.