In our Locally Strong blog series, Experience Burnsville highlights our locally-owned businesses that, although facing challenging times, continue to persevere, innovate, and thrive.
In 2004, Burnsville’s Heart of the City’s Grand Market Place was under construction. Until this time, Burnsville didn’t really have a central downtown. Two restauranteurs, Doron Jensen and his business partner, Brian Hehr, saw the corner location available and believed that Burnsville’s new city center needed a cafe. In March of 2005, Jensen’s Cafe was born.
Doron Jensen got his start in the restaurant business working for his grandfather, Al Jensen, who owned a successful cafe in rural Fremont, Nebraska. He credits his grandpa Al with the recipe of success: “Hire the best people, buy the best products and deliver consistent, quality food. Give customers the best service you can, and the money takes care of itself.”
Jensen’s Cafe wasn’t Hehr’s and Jensen’s first dining endeavor; Jensen had worked for years in corporate restaurants, and he and his business partner owned and operated other restaurants together. Their vision for the new Americana downtown cafe would deliver a casual, but higher-end dining experience met with an inviting atmosphere and dishes using only the best ingredients available.
Jensen traveled throughout the Midwest, tracking places and dishes that he loved. He sought out unique offerings that inspired the upcoming cafe’s culinary concepts. Through his research, one core concept was never negotiable to Jensen: “We use the best ingredients across the board. We cook with butter and real heavy cream. We get the best bread and sausage and there’s no skipping anywhere. We make our butter maple syrup and jams in-house. We create all our food to be as good as it can be. I believe if you serve super good food, people will come.”
Around half of Jensen’s Cafe’s clientele comes from Burnsville. However, people from surrounding areas and out-of-towners seek them out. “We’ve built a strong brand,” Jensen explains. “People will come if you’ve done an exceptional job. It’s really a word-of-mouth business: the locals recommend Jensen’s Cafe. Food enthusiasts find us on the maps and see the reviews.”
Jensen understands that though the food takes center stage, you can’t deliver a fantastic dining experience without the best staff. More than half of the cafe’s employees have been there for 5-10 years – some even 20. “We enjoy developing relationships with our customers who love our staff and vice versa,” says Jensen. “What we can’t ignore is an absolute focus on training staff who bring passion who WANT to work in the business. Often restaurants see high turnover, but Jensen believes that when you treat people right, they stay. “It’s a labor of love.”
A new set of challenges arrived in 2020. Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic and the state’s shut down this past spring, Jensen’s quickly adapted to new guidelines and were forced to eliminate dine-in service. “As a cafe,” Jensen says, “we’ve always done a fair amount of takeout. We just took a couple of days to prepare for increased takeout orders. Of course, gathering containers was a scramble, but we managed.” Jensen’s launched right into it while working to become more efficient and organized. “It was the best thing we did. We continued to cook the food, maintain inventory, and serve our customers. We find our way to your heart through your stomach.”
Customer safety has always been a priority at Jensen’s, and avoiding contagions – such as norovirus – is nothing new. They’ve always handled food properly and appropriately sanitized. People stay home when they’re sick. However, the most significant adjustment has been a refocus on employee health. Jensen’s Cafe now takes even more precautions and continues to manage the business in a way to keep everyone healthy. They measure temperatures every day, the staff wears masks, and tables are carefully socially distanced.
“Today, we’re even more hyper-vigilant. Now we’re living in a national crisis, and it has a larger impact. We want to do it right. We want to help, and we want to stay open. We’re doing it by the book,” states Jensen.
When Minnesota’s governor permitted outdoor dining in early June, Jensen’s added staff when they could. They’re grateful to be doing about 75 percent of their regular business operating at 50 percent capacity. Although revenue is down, PPP loans helped them survive and stake a strong position moving forward.
Another tribute to their success comes from their strong online communication strategy. “We have been savvy for some time, but now we’re taking it to the next level.” As hours fluctuate, Jensen makes it a priority to keep the cafe’s information updated to meet customer expectations.
Jensen believes that there will be a day — hopefully no longer than next year — that the tight restrictions holding dining businesses back will be alleviated.
Though some restaurants are going semi-service, that’s not the future Jensen sees. “We will find ways to maintain our style of communal dining – meeting, treating, and enjoying food while doing life’s business. I want to keep that alive.”