Bringing Louisiana flavor to the Twin Cities
Walking into Cajun Twist, located off of Theodore Wirth Parkway in Golden Valley, visitors are treated to beautiful wooden architecture and the alluring aroma of Louisiana-based cuisine. The restaurant opened in January in Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board’s new Trailhead building, sharing space with the Loppet Foundation Winter Recreation.
There, the cozy eatery specializes in Cajun and Créole cuisine, offering such staples as gumbo, zydeco rice, jambalaya and yaka mein along with a special Bayou Burger. We sat down with Teóna Washington, owner
MSR: What inspired you to launch your business?
Teóna Washington: I think just living in New Orleans and seeing how the people are amongst each other — how you really see not just culture, but personalities come out through food. Seeing that and then finding a lack of it here felt like it was so necessary to bring a taste of New Orleans to the Twin Cities.
MSR: How did you choose the location?
TW: I wanted to be here and do it this way and stand out and do something different. I put in a proposal for Waterworks, which is downtown Minneapolis. But, when I found out who they chose, I was relieved because [this location] matched the culture better. Plus, I wanted to be in a space that was open 365 days a year. [Waterworks is] closed in the winter. I don’t know many places that are owned by the Park Board that are open all year long.
MSR: What makes your business stand out?
TW: I think a lot of times, especially as a Black
MSR: What’s your most requested dish?
TW: The gumbo and the burger sell the most.
MSR: How do you think your business affects the Black community?
TW: By creating jobs, but not just jobs — we’re creating hope. A lot of people come to me and ask, “How did you do this? How did you get the funding?” I think mainly just knowing that being here gives people hope. It makes other women say, “You know what, I can go open up a restaurant somewhere” or “I can go open up this clothing boutique” or “I can go open up this law firm somewhere else.” It gives them hope.
MSR: What’s your biggest challenge in owning a business?
TW: I’d say managing. I’m a visionary — when someone tells me an idea, immediately I can see it in its finished state and how we’re going to get there. But, when you get to that finished state, there are a lot of things involved in the process. There’s management, the whole HR services side of it.
In the beginning of the project, it was getting funding. Being a woman who maybe didn’t have the best credit, didn’t have access to different resources or people, that was the hard part.
Once I got open, it’s the staffing and training. I’m really big on integrity. I like employees that I feel have integrity and character and that are going to greet customers with a smile. Everybody’s not like that, some people just want a job. So, it’s different having someone that just wants a job versus someone that wants to be in this space and make sure that people are happy.
MSR: What’s the most rewarding part of owning a business?
TW: Employees! When people come in and they’ve had a tough day and they’re happy to work or just to be in the kitchen. Even when they’re about to take their lunch break and they get excited about what they’re going to eat. Those kinds of things make me happy. And the customers — seeing all the customers come in whenever we do events and during lunch rushes [and] seeing everybody out here eating and excited about eating. To me that’s amazing.
MSR: Do you have a vision of where you want to go with your business?TW: [I see myself] branching out and opening more locations. Also, using [this location] as a testing or training ground to help other people that want to open up restaurants or run a kitchen and learn about the process.
MSR: What advice do you have for prospective business owners?
TW: I’d say pull in all of your resources. There are a lot of inexpensive or free resources that they can go and set out their plan. Someone can evaluate it with them and go over the process to help them. Go to Meda [Metropolitan Economic Development Association]. They helped me a lot with a press release and getting information out.
MSR: Is there anything else you want to add?
TW: To any and all entrepreneurs that are looking for help, encouragement, support pull on me as a resource. I try to be available to people.
MSR: Any special events?
TW: On Fridays, we’re starting pretty soon, “Live after Five.” It’ll be kind of like mixing and mingling, drinks, things like that. We’ll be out on the patio with the bonfire setup. We have different deals for catering services.
Cajun Twist is located at 1221 Theodore Wirth Parkway in Golden Valley. For more information, visit eatcajuntwist.com or @CajunTwist on Facebook. First-time MSR customers get an additional 10 percent off their first order now through April 30.
Chris Juhn is a contributing photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.