Sisters and brothers, while they might sometimes drive us crazy, are the ones with whom we'll have life's longest relationships. Sharing the same parents creates a bond that runs deep, and in the case of three local restaurateurs, going into business together tightened that bond even further. Sure, with the long hours (up to 90 per week at the outset) and financial struggles that seem to go hand in hand with restaurant ownership, there likely will be disagreements and the occasional rift. But at the end of the day, these siblings (and husbands, wives, sons, daughters, nieces and nephews) all seem to remember they are family first and business partners second.
A Plymouth Institution
If you want to know how Plymouth has changed through the years, ask Mike and Barb Latuff. It’s been 40 years since they bought out Sorini’s restaurant and opened the original Latuff's Pizzeria—a time when the area didn’t have many restaurants to offer. “I still remember when we used to get excited seeing a car come down the highway on a Friday night,” says Barb Latuff, who relocated to Plymouth from South St. Paul with her husband (and high school sweetheart) shortly after the restaurant opened.
Mike is a formally trained chef and took over most of the duties in the kitchen, from day-to-day cooking to developing a recipe for their house pizza sauce. “I probably changed it three or four times,” he says with a laugh. “First it was too spicy, then not spicy enough. When we finally decided on a sauce we were going to stay with, it hasn’t changed since.”
Three years after opening, Barb's brother Dan Mascaro joined the business, and he has been manager for 37 years. Also a chef, he is “the steady,” Barb says, and both she and her husband have an obvious fondness for all that he has brought to the business, from making the daily soups to creating the recipes with Mike. He moved his own family to Plymouth shortly after starting joining Latuff's, but has since moved to Maple Grove. Between brother and sister, there are now several members of the next generation involved in the business.
In fact, when the original Latuff's site was slotted for a new development and they knew they would lose their space in 2009, Mike wanted to retire, but it was the children who convinced him to find a new spot, keeping the restaurant in the family. Located just across the highway from the original site—and with twice as many employees, a more extensive layout and a full liquor license—Latuff’s is going strong.
Arguably the oldest restaurant in Plymouth, the Latuffs have changed a few things about the menu (creative specialty pizzas like barbecue chicken or white-sauce pizza, for one), but they stand by the principle of every day making everything from scratch, from the pizza dough and sauce to the meatballs and fried chicken.
The Tightly Knit Twosome
When sisters Melissa Ho and Yolanda Wang first opened Tea House, they printed the menu of Szechuan dishes only in Chinese, accompanied by a menu of Americanized dishes printed in English. As it turns out, they underestimated the interest that Minnesota natives would have for authentic cuisine. “After many Chinese families visited our restaurant, they would return with co-workers and friends who didn’t read Chinese. We quickly realized that we really do need an English version,” Wang says.
It was 14 years ago—and only because the sisters had settled in the Plymouth area after coming to the United States from China (following a one-year stop in San Jose, Calif.)—that they took over a restaurant called the Tea House in Plymouth. When the duo got here, they couldn’t find restaurants serving their favorite Szechuan dishes, and so they took it upon themselves to open one. After eight years, they added a location near 3M in St. Paul and another one by the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis two years after that.
The sisters grew up inspired by their grandmother, who was a great cook. Their husbands, who happen to be brothers, also had experience in the hospitality business back in China, with a cousin who opened a well-known Peking duck restaurant in Beijing. Since dishes like the Chung King spicy chicken, dan dan noodles and fish with pickled vegetables have won them a loyal customer base, they are trying some new things, like a weekend dim sum buffet and corporate catering. The team of four spends most of its time traveling between restaurants and keeping things in check. “You have to, as an owner, be willing to show up wherever they need you,” Wang says.
Chipotle Before Chipotle
A lot of customers didn’t like spicy food—or at least they didn’t think they did—when Pineda Tacos first opened in Plymouth. That all changed when owner Oscar Pineda (who started Pineda Tacos with his brothers first at the Lake Street location in Minneapolis) made small batches of spicy roasted meats (think: chipotle chicken) and started offering free samples to customers. Eventually those Midwestern palates dropped the milder variations and ordered tacos with the spicier stuff.
Pineda came from Mexico City and grew up in a family where everybody helped with the cooking. He and his brothers simply replicated the food that is so popular back home at their first location, which opened in the late ’90s. The cafeteria-style build-your-own-taco model had staying power—this is the Chipotle model before that restaurant chain came to Minnesota—and Pineda insisted on home-cooked everything, from roasted pork to barbacoa and cow tongue, and a salsa bar that offers three to four homemade salsas ranging from mild to hot. Business boomed as the century turned, and even without advertising the brothers expanded to a second Lake Street location and a third in West St. Paul.
In 2007, when the re-opening of one of their Lake Street spots was delayed after some renovations, Pineda already had employees lined up to work and didn’t want to lose them. Pineda heard about a location in Plymouth with a greater square footage that really appealed to the family, and the fourth location came to town. Pineda runs the Plymouth store on his own, but the five brothers are still full-fledged partners in the enterprise. The local clientele has been very receptive, and while he’s dropped a few items—goodbye, cow tongue—Pineda Tacos has gotten hugely popular with especially Plymouth’s 9-to-5 lunch crowd and families with kids.
Tammy Sproule Kaplan is concluding her reign as food editor for Plymouth Magazine. Send your food- and restaurant-related stories to email@example.com.