In case you missed it, we recently hosted another Kick Ass Happy Hour here at Little. Nearly 150 designers, business owners and creative minds from all across this great state came together last Thursday to hear a panel of Minnesota influencers share their vision for “What’s Next for the North?”

Panelists Eric Dayton, Ann Kim, Tom Hoch and Giselle Ugarte all took a seat at our Kick Ass Bar alongside moderator and Little’s President, Joe Cecere, to talk everything from the provocative door at Young Joni to “Minnesota Nice”. All discussed how Minneapolis is no longer America’s best kept secret; rather, we’re seen as a pretty kick ass place to be. But how do we keep it that way? How can Minneapolis keep upping the ante? And how does design and crafting great experiences continue to play a role in that?

Below we share some of the top things our panelists had to say. If you choose to share any on social, please include #KickAssHappyHour.

Panel Bios

Eric Dayton — Co-owner of Askov Finlayson, The Bachelor Farmer, Marvel Bar / Co-founder & President of The Great Northern

Giselle Ugarte — On-Air Host & Multimedia Producer at Go Radio / GoMN

Tom Hoch — Former President & CEO of the Hennepin Theatre Trust / Immediate past Chair of the Minneapolis Downtown Council

Ann Kim — James Beard Foundation Award Nominated Chef, Young Joni / Chef and Owner of Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza

[On how Minneapolis can keep upping the ante]

Ann Kim: You bring people in by creating an experience. We need to create neighborhoods and a sense of community within them. That’s why I have opened my restaurants in smaller neighborhoods and not in strip malls. Restaurants can create the vitality of the neighborhood – the regulars coming in. On opening Young Joni in Northeast: I love that Northeast is a community first. It’s got the Eastern European heritage; lots of families. Suburban folks are coming in for the sense of community that is already there.

[On MN Nice]

Gisele Ugarte: I came back to Minnesota [from L.A.] and felt like a 20 pound weight had been lifted off my chest that I didn’t know had been there. I wasn’t planning to stay very long but feel so welcome in this community. I’ve had to start from scratch to develop a MN circle, but once you break in, people really want to fight for you. They really want to help you. So many people here love what they do and want to build things that help people. In L.A., it’s all about who you are and who you know. Here, people don’t care about that. It’s a community and people really share values.

[On what’s next for downtown retail]

Eric Dayton: A crisis is a terrible thing to waste (regarding the closing of Macy’s). This closing inspired the thought, “What will bring retail back to downtown?” We have to create a space where people want to be, where people feel safe to walk around. The retailers will come if the people are there.

Tom Hoch: Part of the solution to bringing more retail back to downtown is bringing more housing back to the urban core. But a mix of housing for a mix of incomes. Creating walkable sidewalks. Retailers look at who is on the street – the people, the stores. Do I want to be there? One way to make people feel safer on the streets is to increase the programming that brings crowds out. Safety in numbers.

[On what Minneapolis can be known for]

Tom Hoch: To continue to have a thriving, vital economy, we need to become the Silicon Valley of something. Could it be the Silicon Valley of Food? We have so many of the building blocks here and the heritage in the mills, etc. What would that look like? Or the capital of health and wellness? We need a big idea to drive it. Could it be our focus on live theatre? It has to be authentic to who we are.

Eric Dayton: I would love to be known for our support of entrepreneurship. I think we are a risk averse culture and we play it safe too much. How are we encouraging the entrepreneurs? Promoting their stories?  Showcasing what they are doing?  It’s underreported and we need to vote with our dollars by supporting the people who are taking risks. The market will reward it if we put our money where our mouth is.

Giselle Ugarte: I’ve never seen so many people love what they do. People want to be loyal to whatever it is.

[On being a trendsetter or follower]

Ann Kim: So many people come to me and say they want to open a pizzeria and ask me how I do it. I say, don’t do what I do. Do what you do. It has to be authentic and unique to your own experience. I don’t want to follow the trend, I want to create new ones. I think in Minnesota, we really don’t want to win. We want to persevere, be the “good” city. Not stir the pot. But we can be something better. We need to be a little nastier. Take risks. Push the edge.

[On the provocative door at Young Joni]

Ann Kim: We didn’t set out to create a door that no one could open. But we did think, how could we create a design that was seamless with what we were trying to create for our restaurant? Yes, people have trouble opening the door, but now that is part of the experience. People waiting at the bar get dinner and a “show” – watching people try to open it. It gets great buzz for the restaurant. The door is almost now a metaphor: it’s about creative thinking and the possibility for being open to new things. How can we challenge our guests and continue to push the boundaries – not only with our food but also with our experience.

Photo credit: Thomas Strand