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Joan’s in the Park

Joan’s In The Park

Saint Paul, MN

For a good time, (make reservations): Here

Check out their website: HERE

Key words: Cute! Small. Focused. Smart. Awesome. Exceptional!

I have a pretty strong stance on part timers–don’t have them! The more time and mental focus one puts into anything, the better the outcome. Part time employees usually equal part time focus and energy too; as a business owner or leader, you want full time, full focus, and full energy.


Small and Perfect


There are a lot of restaurant owners and wannabe business owners who visualize success as big. BIG!

Big restaurant. Big menu. Big staff.

I say, no way. And if you take an evening to dine at Joan’s in the Park you just may agree with me.

Joans’ in the Park is a small restaurant in the Highland Park neighborhood in Saint Paul, MN that is celebrating their 3 year anniversary right around now, September 2014.  It is family and friend owned: two friends and their professional, adult children and family friend. This team is fully committed to their success and their guest’s enjoyment, and as guests often say, they “are like a machine how you work together.”  “We all do a lot,” Joan tells me. “I’ll pass with glassware and clean glassware is passed back. I’ll remove a used tablecloth and someone will pass me a clean one.”

Joan is one of the owners and the namesake behind “Joan’s” In the Park. She has been in the industry for over 20 years and started as many of us do, as a server.  She doesn’t serve anymore, but that doesn’t mean she is inactive on the floor. On the contrary she is the Maître d, food runner, back server and server assist. She is what IamWaitress refers to as “the mortar between the bricks.” Her business partner, Susan, is the Chef. Together they run the restaurant; each a leader and gem in their field.


Because this team is small, it is also focused and strong. That’s the kind of environment that is produced when you have a concentrated team who are accountable and committed. The crew at JITP rarely run with more than three servers, and why would they? Overstaffing is a technique that struggling or unorganized restaurants use. It certainly doesn’t belong here.

The restaurant itself is small–10 tables inside and 7 on the patio; each server runs 5 primary tables and helps out with the rest.  That’s what team service looks like.


Great Chef. Great Service.


Susan is the other owner and outstanding chef at Joan’s in the Park. But unbelievably, she had never been a restaurant chef before.  She was a regional manager for the back of house operations of a well known corporate restaurant and therefor has spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen helping, but she has never held the “chef” title before. Now she not only carries it, but does it profound justice. She tells me as she knocks on some wood, “We haven’t skipped a beat. We haven’t had that one night of the kitchen just crashing.”



Chef Susan even makes it a point to deliver some items to the guests. This is such a great touch–who doesn’t love to have a chat with the talent who created their meal? Joan points out that when the servers don’t run the food “it isn’t because your server wasn’t interested, it’s because the chef was.”

The front and back of house have such respect for each other here. Chef Susan recognizes “our food is good, but it’s the whole package. It’s how people are made to feel when they walk in the door, how we describe the food, it’s everything. So much is about how you make people feel.”


Because the cuisine is so well managed and consistently wonderful, the front of house servers can focus their attention on the “feeling” part of the hospitality industry.   Dan-John, a JITP server and family friend (whose real name is Dan, but Joan’s son and fellow server is also named Dan, since Dan looks like a “Johnathan” they use that to differentiate them), says, “We have a lot of regulars and even if they’re not in “my section” I still stop by to say hello.”

Joan has noticed in her career that people are more forgiving about food than service, so you have to be impressive right away and you have to do so genuinely. On this tour, most restaurant owners said they wanted to be known as a neighborhood joint, but you can’t be “that place” if you don’t show your guests how important they are.With that being said, I feel confident in declaring Joan’s in The Park an approachably high-end neighborhood joint.


This restaurant teaches us that while we live in a supersize nation, when it comes to the success of a restaurant, it is not a determining factor.

Thank you good-looking and charismatic JITP team! I will continue to send people your way. You deserve your success! Joan, Susan, Dan, Dan John, Kelly, Lindsay and everyone else who puts in full effort to your craft–it shows.







  1. Thanks for the great post on the restaurant, Jennifer! Glad we got the chance to meet when you were in St. Paul!

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