You’re Welcome At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe

All photos by Jude Bass/@actuallycastle on Instagram
All photos by Jude Bass/@actuallycastle on Instagram

Tucked away in a nook of Duluth’s Chester Park Neighborhood is the famed At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe (ATSCC). For the past 20 years, Carla Blumberg and Barbara Neubert have embraced community, hospitality, and the farm-to-table movement to create one of Minnesota’s most iconic locations to grab a bite – and stay for a while.

The restaurant carries a warm atmosphere, with a cozy layout and wooded features inviting conversation and connection. From flavorful omelets to vibrant paella, the menus are abundant with diverse tastes and unique dishes, all garnished with a homestyle feel.

Blumberg began as an organic farmer in Texas, intrigued by the growing movement toward food sustainability and sovereignty. After getting her Bachelor’s in Biology, she opened her own restaurant, and began her journey into food service. Neubert’s path was intertwined with feminist collectives of the ’70s, which served as the inspiration for ‘At Sara’s Table’ – both the title of her novel and the coffee shop she would eventually establish.

Barb Neubert and Carla Blumberg

That’s where the couple met – and where the story of ATSCC begins. Blumberg knew the coffee shop could become full service, and humorously recalls convincing Neubert to go along. They bought a run-down grocery store and renovated, changing the name, and transforming the building into the bustling hub it is today. Blumberg knew she wanted the place to reflect her early farm-to-table influences, recalling “We just said that’s who we were and we did it.”

Upon opening, Blumberg had two goals: to create jobs in the Duluth area and to bring this style of cuisine to the area. It wasn’t easy – both Blumberg and Neubert recounted the challenges of owning a business: balancing their relationship, navigating vendors, and effectively managing staff all took time. “I didn’t realize at the time how gritty service industry jobs can be,” Blumberg reflected.

When asked if her LGBTQ+ identity ever impacted her work, Blumberg responded “I don’t know, I can’t answer that because I don’t know what it’s like not to be queer. Sometimes I think if I had been straight and had a husband…it would have been different. It’s not like I noticed it though.” Later in our conversation, she shared how meaningful it was that “many women have talked to both of us about how important it was to them that we were there and had our business.”

It all comes back to the quality of the food: locally and ethically sourced foods is the key to ATSCC’s success. “We had a direct personal relationship with our vendors; we knew the fish guy, the beef guy, the egg guy, the pork guy, the potato guy, and it has been so rewarding,” Blumberg exclaimed.

Both remembered a story from the early days; when they would buy whole cows from the butcher – and didn’t know what to do with all of that meat. “One night, I was cooking and one of the servers came to the window and said ‘I cannot tell my customers that we’re going to have beef stracatto again tonight. We have to have something different!’” The original recipe, as Blumberg tells me, is from the ‘Silver Palate’, a popular ‘80s cookbook that inspired the “zillions” of beef stracatto recipes online today – but at the time, there was none – so Blumberg emailed an Italian woman who gave her instructions like “I just dump a glass of wine in there”. That’s the kind of quirk that makes ATSCC so distinct: recipes, practices, and traditions that have grown out of authenticity.

Of course, nothing went to waste: even the bones of the cows went to a local soup kitchen, Neubert shared. Their mission is always on supporting their community; the couple describes their pride in holding countless events for non-profits, political candidates, and local causes, and have converted a conference room on the second story of their building into an event space.

Blumberg and Neubert’s next project? Building an elevator to the room: making everything they do as inclusive and accessible as possible is their focus. Looking toward the future, they hope to pass down the restaurant to their employees and keep this dream alive.

If you can’t decide on one of the delicious dishes, the couple recommends the Buddha bowls, the grilled salmon, and the soups. Blumberg also shares that while they’re known as a brunch spot, their dinner service is wonderful – and she wishes more folks would come in during that time. For those that might not be able to make it to the restaurant, they published a cookbook to celebrate their 20-year anniversary, filled with 90 of their most popular recipes, available for order on their website.

The interview ended on a powerful note from Blumberg. “I think that tourism is important to Duluth…we are a tourist town, we are a tourist destination, we certainly are that, but there are other aspects to Duluth that are just as important, there’s science going on, they’re studying the lake, there’s a really strong native culture, and art culture, and there’s other things going on besides eating and drinking.”

At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe certainly has done that; bringing together the essence of Duluth, beyond just the culinary delights. The restaurant is a testament to the multifaceted identity of the city, vibrantly bringing a community, or rather, an entire state, together for a meal.

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