This year, one of the area’s most recognizable food purveyors celebrated 40 years in business. Peg Rasmussen of Peg’s Countryside Café has been putting out delicious short-order diner dishes in the small café on Highway 55 since 1975, but perhaps fewer customers are familiar with the initiative that’s been taking off from a small kitchen a block east of the café the past quarter of those years: Countryside Catering.
That’s right, Rasmussen has been orchestrating a small staff led by executive chef Casey Spanier to bring local catering right to the doors of the Plymouth-area masses.
For someone who jumped into the business with no previous restaurant experience, teaching herself how to cook while earning a business degree and developing a national reputation for her business savvy and community involvement in the process, the leap isn’t surprising—but it is a leap. “At the café, people are willing to take a chance on a breakfast or lunch, but they want to know exactly what they’re getting for their guests at a party,” Rasmussen says. Still, she jumped in with both feet, and it wasn’t until 2007—after already filling catering requests from the restaurant for a handful of years—that she made the choice to “make a run at it,” acquiring a building recently vacated by a closing Chinese restaurant just down the road.
Today, Countryside Catering supports business events, cocktail parties, intimate dinners, meetings, holiday gatherings, funerals and weddings across the Twin Cities. (Most recently, Rasmussen notes, the company has been added to the exclusive list of approved caterers for the Three Rivers Park District, a huge “get” in terms of potential business at the park system’s 17 venues.) This can be anything from boxed lunches to white-tablecloth executive meals, all made under the careful eye of Spanier, all fresh to order. “This team could do any event in a way we’d be proud to do it in,” Rasmussen says.
A lot of that is customer education, Spanier says. Things to consider include how long the party will be, the number of people, the time of day, will food be passed or plattered, guests upstairs or downstairs (or both). “Think about storage, think about location—we ask these questions to get a sense of the general flow of traffic,” Rasmussen says. “The feedback we hear the most—that’s our real measure of success—is ‘it was so easy.’ Customers don’t know about the planning ahead for the things that could go wrong—and they shouldn’t. It’s our job to respond to challenges so that everything appears to go seamlessly.”
Success can also be measured in growth. Countryside is doing six times the business the catering company was doing eight years ago, and it’s looking like even more business in 2016. (Insider’s tip: May, June and July were busy months this past year, so book those grad parties early!)
Team members at Countryside have their own holiday favorites and memories. Spanier says, “Great-grandma made a pretty mean goose,” mentioning she taught him the most about cooking. Rasmussen references her Irish heritage: “We always had a root vegetable, like a rutabaga, and we had the traditional turkey dinner.” Popular around Thanksgiving are the pies still made by the same pie baker Rasmussen has been working with for 40 years. “Bonnie still hand rolls every pie crust,” she says. Favorites include pumpkin and pecan during the holidays, apple, banana cream and strawberry rhubarb year-round (all pies $17 with the exception of pumpkin, $13).
Spanier says the holidays are an especially busy season, fraught with a lot of pop-up company holiday parties (or breakfasts) in addition to the typical weddings, and nonprofit and corporate events. He points out that certain dates, such as weekends between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, fill faster than others, but really the team needs at least 10 days’ notice for groups of 100 or more.
“And we don’t need a final head count to get you on the calendar, so if you know your date, give us a call and a ballpark number [of guests], and we can sort out the details as you know them,” Rasmussen says, adding the consultation process is fluid for every event, big or small. “Everything is customizable,” Spanier says. “Our menus [on the website] are really just a guide.”
Facts on 40 years of Countryside
Peg’s Countryside Café originally opened in the 1950s as Knotty Pine Café, then was known as Frenchie’s Diner when Peg Rasmussen bought it in September 1975.
The café seats 55 guests in its 1,500-square-foot dining space.
The restaurant, once frequented only by farmers and small-town residents, has evolved into a destination for office workers, golfers and commuters hungry for home-cooked specialties.
When Rasmussen placed Mickey Rooney’s photo on the wall after a visit from the film star, regulars joked they were as important and should have their photos on the wall—and she agreed. Now there are generations of photos on the wall, bringing back families as many as 30 years later.
Through the years, Rasmussen has donated much time, food and energy to local nonprofits and charities. The events aiding IOCP are countless—standouts include handing control of the restaurant to area sixth-graders for two nights each year, teaching them valuable business skills—and she’s also done a lot with Hennepin County’s Friends of the Library.
Rasmussen also helped start Kids Café, which provides evening meals to low-income children in Minneapolis.
In 1996, General Mills named Rasmussen one of 75 women across the country to embody a revamped Betty Crocker logo. Photos of the women were incorporated into a computer-assisted composite image, which Rasmussen proudly displays. “My customers thought that was just the greatest thing, that I’m a part of the Betty Crocker tradition."
Top 10 Appetizers
- Roasted tomato galettes with bacon jam
- Bahn mi bites
- Charcuterie platter (above)
- Crab cakes
- Thai peanut satays
- Moroccan meatballs with tzatziki
- Tenderloin crostini
- Smoked salmon tartlets (below)
- Bacon-wrapped potato wedges (bottom left), candied, with lime crème fraiche
- Stuffed confetti peppers