Best of 2021 Editor’s Picks

by | Jun 2021

leaf photo by Nihar Sahani

Photos: Nihar Sahani; Sarah Dovolos; Chris Emeott

Take a closer look at what makes Plymouth Plymouth.

If we had our druthers, our Plymouth Magazine staff would include many more categories in our Best of 2021 readers’ poll contest. However, this affords me the opportunity to highlight some Editor’s Picks that don’t fall into our standard categories. Let’s take a moment to celebrate Plymouth’s (somewhat) hidden treasures.

About 25 years ago, local man Bob Fisher slept out in his tent to raise funds for his neighbors experiencing poverty and food insecurities. What started as a one-man effort to raise $7,000 and feed 100 families Thanksgiving dinner has grown into a community-wide effort that has raised more than $32 million to help local families with basic needs (housing, employment, childcare and food), according to Plymouth’s Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners (IOCP).

Last year, IOCP celebrated 25 years of the annual Sleep Out campaign, which normally includes a series of events and experiences over the course of a week, and has raised more than $3.1 million, helping nearly 2,000 local families. (The 2020 event looked a bit different due to COVID restrictions.)

There are plenty of ways to help during the Sleep Out, including donating; hosting your own Sleep Out event; creating an online fundraising and awareness campaign; or placing a sign in your yard to share information about homelessness in this community.

This Tender Land Book

Literature brings a community together in so many beautiful ways—education, expression and enlightenment. In its 12th year, Plymouth Reads strives to spark conversation, build community and foster learning and discovery in Plymouth by rallying readers around a single book.

“It starts a conversation for a lot of people,” says group chairperson LuAnn Svendsen, who has been with Plymouth Reads for 10 years. “We try to choose books that have some issue or relevance to current life, so that there is something to discuss. The biggest thing is that we want people to read,” she says. “Anything that can bring our community together, particularly now in these divisive times, is important.”

For this year, the group puts forth William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land. Set during the Great Depression with southwest Minnesota serving as the backdrop, the story features the Lincoln Indian Training School, where American Indian children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be assimilated.

Odie O’Banion, a lively orphan stands out among the rest.  An incident causes Odie and his brother, Albert, to flee the school, taking with them their best friend, Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl, Emmy. They steal away in a canoe, heading for the Mississippi River—in search of a place to call home. While the novel opens with a sad premise, Svendsen says passages quickly move toward a more Huckleberry Finn-like vibe. “It’s a really fast, fun read,” she says. “It’s really enjoyable.”

To arrive at each year’s book choice, 12 members read many books, penned by regional authors, before deciding on a final title. (Chosen authors are invited to attend a book event in Plymouth.) The program runs in cooperation with the City of Plymouth, the Plymouth Arts Council, Hennepin County Library–Plymouth, Friends of the Plymouth Library and the Plymouth Lions Club.

Dufner’s Deli’s

Perhaps the best item on Dufner’s Deli’s menu is a heaping dose of community support. Thanks to Angel Hill’s October Facebook post, which explained that the longtime Plymouth restaurant was poised to permanently close due to declining business during the recent pandemic, the table was set for residents to take action.

“Angel’s post received 106 comments from Plymouth MN Mamas [a Facebook group of more than 4,000 members] stating they would order from Dufner’s Deli to help save it from closing,” says Hannah Wagner, adding that initial efforts helped owner, Raj Kumar, secure rent money, thanks to the uptick in business. “It was defiantly a group effort,” she says.

“You know the story about someone needs help and God sends angels on Earth?” Kumar says. “Those are the angels who came to help me.” He also notes that his landlord has been supportive over the last year.

It didn’t end there. Wagner says local media outlets were contacted to spread the word to the broader community. KSTP-TV picked up the story, and even more area residents were inspired to #EatLocal.

And, it didn’t end there either. Supporting more Plymouth businesses is clearly on the forefront of the minds of members of Plymouth MN Mamas. “[The group] is now looking at trying to help out other small businesses in the city,” Wagner says. Stay tuned!

“When I bought the business eight years ago, I was worried because I’m not American,” says Kumar of Chaska, noting he is a U.S. citizen. “‘Are these people (customers) going to adopt me or not?’” he asked himself at the time. It might have taken eight years to fully receive the answer, but he did. “They did adopt me,” Kumar says. “There’s proof right there.” 3900 Vinewood Lane, Plymouth; 763.553.9375;

Imagine serving 6,000 meals in a year. Each Monday since December 2019, Mount Olivet Lutheran Church of Plymouth offers food to anyone who would like a meal.

Beginning in January 2019, it took only four months to raise $624,000, exceeding the $500,000 goal, to secure funds to convert the church’s existing kitchen to an industrial kitchen, so it could safely serve those who face food insecurity. “There was a wide invitation to give both from church members and the community,” says lead pastor Beth Horsch. “A group of 8th graders hosted a babysitting night and shared their earnings.  The Mount Olivet Child Learning Center hosted an event for families and shared the proceeds … Coins in piggy banks were even shared.”

Food for the free meal comes from the Loaves and Fishes, Inc. distribution center and Mount Olivet gardens. Guests receive a hot main dish with fruit and vegetables. (Veggies and herbs come from the community garden on church property.) The team partners with Rustica Bakery for bread products. During COVID restrictions, meals were served to-go and delivered to cars (or bikes) as they arrived.

In this case, there’s no such thing as too many “cooks” in the kitchen. “Volunteers come from Mount Olivet and also the community,” says Horsch. “Right now, there is a pool of 118 regular volunteers.  Anyone can volunteer and be a part of meal prep, serving or clean up.” Deb McDonald is the community meal coordinator, leads volunteers and works closely with Mount Olivet’s kitchen manager, Melissa Bondhus, and Loaves and Fishes.

“We felt called to open our building and grounds to the community,” says Horsch. “Everyone needs to eat, and we both feed and are fed as we prepare and serve this weekly meal.  Food insecurity is a reality in our suburban community. The impact continues to grow as we meet new people and hear of other areas where we’re called to respond.” 12235 Old Rockford Road; 763.559.2775;

Event at Millenium Garden

Plymouth’s Nihar Sahani, otherwise known at @nihar398 on Instagram, has an acute eye and appreciation for natural surroundings. On his site, he refers to himself as “a passionate photographer who likes to capture extraordinary in the ordinary.”

Originally from Berhampur, Odisha, India, Sahani has lived in Plymouth since 2018. “I always had the inclination of viewing and capturing objects with a creative perspective,” he says. “I am still trying to find more time to passionately explore this art further.”

Sahani’s local go-to photog spots include the Hilde Performance Center, Millennium Gardens and area lakes. “I am more into nature photography and these are the places filled with natural beauty, so I love walking around and capturing as much memories as I can,” he says.

There are other spots that bring out his artistic mojo, including anywhere with a beautiful sunset or natural beauty. “I can spend hours trying to capture as many beautiful shots as possible,” he says. “One of my dream places to be was Yellowstone National Park. I was lucky to be there once, and it was mesmerizing … Some other places on my bucket list would be Alaska or New Zealand … And last, but never the least, my own country. India has diverse natural beauty filled with vibrant beaches, lakes, countryside, shrines and much more.”

Sahani enjoys using Instagram as a public photo album. “Anyone can see the photos and, hopefully, bring a smile on their faces for one happy moment—just my small way of spreading joy.”


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