A champion for food and wine

Molly Broder brought authentic Italian cuisine to Minneapolis more than 30 years ago

Running a restaurant empire wasn’t in Molly Broder’s plans when she was growing up.

“I wanted to be a photojournalist,” she said.

Love and adventure came first, however, for the girl who grew up in in Windsor, Canada, just across the river from Detroit in Ontario.

At age 20, Broder dropped out of photojournalism school and went to live in a tent in the Adirondacks with her new husband, Tom.

The two worked at a French restaurant to save money for a six-month honeymoon in France.

“Working at that place convinced me that I never wanted to work in the restaurant business,” she said.

In the fall, the two headed to Paris, where they spent half a year with friends, enjoying French food.

After Paris, the couple moved around the Midwest, including St. Louis and the Twin Cities, where Molly Broder returned to her journalism studies, eventually graduating into a photography gig with Gov. Rudy Perpich’s press office.

When Perpich lost the 1978 election, Broder and her husband left for Chicago. Then, in 1981, they took a trip to Bologna, Italy that would dramatically change their lives.

Today, Molly Broder owns and operates three of Minneapolis’ most acclaimed restaurants — Broders’ Pasta Bar, Broders’ Cucina Italiana and, the newest, Terzo, all located on different corners at 50th Street and Penn Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis.

During their time in Bologna, Tom and Molly Broder studied Italian cooking with Marcella Hazan, the now well-known author of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, credited with transforming the way Americans view Italian food. Hazan made a lasting impression on the Broders.

By fall, they’d moved back to Minneapolis to focus on one thing: Pasta. They wanted to bring authentic Italian food to the North Coast.

“Tom and I wanted to get into business together and a restaurant seemed ideal,” she said.

It was also a feminist choice, a way to have it all. “I wasn’t one to stay at home,” she said. “We wanted a life that was all incorporated — to have home, work and family life all together — and this was the only way we could see to do it.”

When space in a former Wuollet Bakery location opened up in 1982, it seemed a perfect fit. It was the right size (relatively small), and in a bustling location, with few other neighborhood restaurants nearby. Most important, it was within walking distance of their home.

They signed a lease and soon, Broders’ Cucina Italiana, a New York-inspired deli, was bringing in customers from all over the city.

Egg pasta was their signature item, but they added authentic sauces, stromboli, pizza, lasagna and salads, all made in the back of the shop.

“Things just grew from there,” she said. “People were ready for good, high-quality meals to take home.”

For people who wanted to cook at home, the deli carried a variety of olive oils, dried pastas, Italian sausages and salami and cheeses with unfamiliar names. They seemed exotic at a time — more than 30 years ago now — when a lot of people thought spaghetti sauce came only in a jar and Parmesan came only in a can.

Tom and Molly Broder’s sons (Charlie, Danny and Thomas) grew up to become important players in the family restaurant business, which has grown to three distinct dining destinations. Photo courtesy of Molly Broder

A family affair

The little deli reflected Tom Broder’s passion for cooking. An Irish-American, he hailed from New York City, where Italian delis were part of the landscape.

“He’d grown up with New York-style pizza and South Jersey hoagies. Pasta was a pure Italian tradition,” Broder said. “So, that’s what we did for the next 11 years.”

Meanwhile, their family was growing. They had three sons, Thomas, Charlie and Danny.

“I’d sit Thomas on a stool when he was only 2 years old and he’d watch the tortellini being made,” she said. “He started working at age 11, when the pasta bar opened, helping in the kitchen and busing tables.”

When the gas station across the street from the deli closed in 1994, the Broders took it over, transforming it into Broders’ Pasta Bar. The sit-down restaurant focused on classic Italian pastas, with a menu that changed weekly.

Thomas remembers it being an exciting time for the family.

“I was aware that they were opening a restaurant and I wanted to be involved and help them,” he said. “There was no pressure on me. On the contrary, they were cautious about me getting involved at that age.”

It was the beginning of a Southwest Minneapolis restaurant dynasty. And Thomas came to embrace the family business.

“Doing this gave me years of on-the-job experience that’s helped me be successful,” Thomas said. “I love feeding people. My favorite thing is when I feed someone and it sparks a memory, maybe of a trip to Italy or of a grandmother’s cooking. You can have moments with food that can be special.”

Molly Broder was named the 2015 Legislative Advocate of the Year Award by the Minnesota Restaurant Association. She also received a 2015 Charlie Award for Lifetime Achievement at an annual event celebrating exceptional contributions to the Twin Cities food scene. Photo by Tracy Walsh

Changing liquor laws

The restaurant was a hit, but there was one big problem: In Southwest Minneapolis, where the restaurant was located, prohibition still ruled.

Back then, whole sections of Minneapolis were dry. Liquor was allowed downtown and along the commercial corridors of Lake Street and Hennepin, Central and University Avenues. No alcohol, except for 3.2 beer, could be served, although a few older and established restaurants, such as Pepito’s, were grandfathered in.

“It was embarrassing,” she said. “An Italian restaurant and we couldn’t even serve a glass of wine. We already had a 3.2 beer license, which was the only neighborhood-acceptable spirit at the time.”

Broder went to work, contacting her city councilor to see of linguine con trota affumicata (pasta with smoked trout) for $17 at the pasta bar couldn’t cover the 70 percent required if a diner ordered a couple $11 glasses of wine or two $6 craft beers.

For restaurants like Broders’ Pasta Bar and Terzo, the 70/30 rule made serving quality beers and wines a problem, and put many local restaurants out of compliance. Broder decided it was again time to stand and fight.

She organized Citizens for a Modern Minneapolis to do away with the 70/30 rule. More than 70 restaurant owners joined her, and the group succeeded in getting an amendment on the city ballot

That measure passed in 2014 with more than 80 percent support, one of the highest passage percentages in Minneapolis history.

Molly Broder opened the family’s third restaurant, the highly acclaimed Terzo, in 2013, with her sons (left to right), Thomas, Danny and Charlie. Photos by Tracy Walsh / tracywalshphoto.com

Honored for activism

Broder’s effort earned her the Minnesota Restaurant Association’s 2015 Legislative Advocate of the Year Award.

The same year, she received a Charlie Award for Lifetime Achievement for her work in the local food scene.

With the three restaurants, Broder now employs more than 100 people. She still works 45 hours a week, overseeing operations, walking across the streets from restaurant to restaurant to supervise staff and greet patrons.

She has no plans for retirement, she said, but she wants to travel more — to Italy, mostly — and says she plans to cut back hours with the coming arrival of her first grandchild this spring.

“I’ve told my kids that they shouldn’t let their kids go into the restaurant business. But I am looking forward to teaching my grandchild how to make pasta,” she said.

Stephanie Fox is a freelance journalist who lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two English bulldogs.

Where to eat

  • Broders’ Cucina Italiana, established in 1982, is a deli that does brisk take-out and delivery business, including fresh pastas and sauces, baked goods, imported and domestic groceries, deli meats and cheeses, New York-style pizza, sandwiches and lasagna. There’s limited seating for eating on site. Catering is also available.
  • Broders’ Pasta Bar opened in 1994 and features fi ne Italian dining in an intimate space with a specialty of homemade pasta. Both imported and homemade pastas prepared here can be purchased at Broders’ Cucina Italiana.
  • Terzo, which opened in 2013, is a wine bar and restaurant (above), offering more than 400 wines, including 40 wines by the glass, alongside a highly acclaimed dinner menu of pastas, meat and seafood dishes, plus a popular lunch-window service — Porchetteria @ Terzo — serving slow-roasted Italian pork sandwiches.
Molly Broder’s favorite spring recipe

Learn more about all the restaurants — occupying three of the four corners of 50th Street and Penn Avenue in Minneapolis, two blocks south of Lake Harriet — at broders.com or call 612-925-3113.

Stephanie Fox is a freelance journalist who lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two English bulldogs.