After 10 years, Dan Swenson-Klatt has gone from hundred-hour workweeks to the luxury of time-off to recover from surgery — that’s shoulder surgery due to years of stirring, chopping and lifting.
“I thought it was the kind of shop where I would do it all myself,” he said. “I had to give that up pretty quickly.”
Butter has always aimed to be firmly embedded in the community, serving refreshments for the JungleTheater and events at South High School, among many others. As a former middle school teacher, Swenson-Klatt said he can always pick out the teachers in line.
“In my heart I’m less of a restaurant, I’m more of a community center,” he said.
The menu is a reflection of community as well. Swenson-Klatt borrows menu items from restaurants like the Angry Trout Café in Grand Marais, which gave him the recipe for the wild rice salad. The Beet Burger recipe came from a little café in Milwaukee. Many of the soups are Swenson-Klatt’s family recipes, and he’s made the scones for years.
“For all the bakers, that’s their test,” he said. “They take my recipe and see what they can do with it.”
Butter employs youth who live above the restaurant at Nicollet Square, which houses young people exiting homelessness or foster care. Swenson-Klatt estimates that at least 20 youth have interned at Butter, and he’s hired four on permanently over the years. He’s been glad to break down barriers for kids feeling isolated. Whenever a new intern starts, he thinks: “Who in my customer base will connect with them?”
Butter also pays attention to sustainability. Paper towels in the restroom are compostable and a sign challenges each customer to use only one. A boulevard garden takes advantage of otherwise unused space. And Swenson-Klatt has spent years searching for the perfect compostable cup, challenging suppliers to meet his specifications.
Butter has worked with Big River Farms since the beginning, which trains immigrant and refugee farmers. The kitchen learned to adapt to local farms’ surges and shortfalls in produce — experimenting with unusual greens in quiche, and brainstorming soup recipes to take advantage of plentiful squash.
“I’m appreciative that customers have that sense of adventure, and staff are willing to be creative,” he said.
Butter has plenty of regulars; the Clint sandwich is named for one of them. At least twice a week, a group of women gather at Butter after water aerobics class — in the water, they pretend they’re taking sips of coffee. They’ve been coming for years, back when Butter was a tiny spot on Grand.
“They’re worth opening the door every day,” Swenson-Klatt said.