East Side Stories
Cook St. Paul : From Childhood Memories to Community Collaborations
We all know Serlin’s, it was a staple on the East Side for what seemed like forever, well nearly 70 years. Edmond Charles Hansen III, aka Eddie Wu, remembers it too. His father was a firefighter stationed on Payne Avenue.
“My dad would get off work at the fire station and I would get dropped off there,” Wu said. “I’d help with his side job: washing windows or trimming trees. The deal would be he’d give me $5 but also he’d take me out to eat and usually he’d let me choose. And I could never remember the name of Serlin’s, but I remember the pictures on the wall. Those food pictures. So I would say, ‘Can we go to the place with the weird food pictures?’ And he knew.”
Wu eventually left Minnesota for the Marines but returned 12 years later to marry his wife, Eve Wu (also taking her last name). In 2013, he found himself back at Serlin’s.
“Oh man, am I going to buy Serlin’s?” he recalls. “It was mind-blowing to me! I was having a time warp through the ages of remembering as a kid and thinking what would I have thought as a kid if someone said, ‘in thirty years you’re going to buy this place’?”
He called it Cook St. Paul. With the popularity of Cook on the rise, Wu is offering to other aspiring chefs what he couldn’t find: an affordable space to hold pop-up restaurants. Before opening Cook, Wu would ask other restaurants to use their space to try his recipes out in a pop-up. But they often took 50% of the night’s proceeds on top of an $800 or more fee.
“I figured out what I want to do with the pop-up. I said, ‘Alright, I’m going to let people use my space,’” he said. He charges a low flat fee for overhead charges and the chef keeps 100% of the night’s proceeds (with exception of liquor, as the license cannot be shared).
“It’s your food, you earned it,” Wu said. “To me it’s a no brainer. There’s a business benefit: people come to my restaurant that otherwise wouldn’t. People show up that didn’t know Cook existed; people come back to my restaurant. Also, I eat [their] food. It’s awesome too, because I learn [from them] too. It’s a really awesome environment.”
Cook has hosted pop-ups for chefs from Union Kitchen, KG’s Katfish N’ Greens, Lolarosa’s and The Peach, to name a few. For Ger Yang of KULUCE: A Hmong Kitchen, it was the perfect environment to try out some of his own ideas. In October 2018, Yang hosted his second pop-up.
“I love the idea and concept behind a pop-up restaurant,” Yang said. “Like an artist or performer, doing a pop-up allows me to express myself through the food that I believe in. It takes a lot of hard work, stress and time to achieve a successful pop-up. But it's so satisfying to see guests at your pop-up enjoying your food and knowing that they are happy to be there. That makes me happy and I guess that's a big reason why I'm interested in pop-ups. Doing pop-ups at Cook, I believe it brings people to the East Side that don’t usually come to the area. It also helps promote Cook as well as these guests are being exposed to the local businesses on Payne Avenue.”
This story was a part of the 'Stories from the East Side' series from the other media group: