For Fernando and Kalinka Silva, the story of their journey to owning a successful restaurant in Linden Hills is lined with serendipity. But while the universe may have conspired to help, Fernando and Kalinka’s blood, sweat and tears made Harriet Brasserie happen.
The couple, who both moved from Brazil in the early 2000s, met in Minnesota while working in the restaurant industry.
“I had worked in restaurants all my life,” Fernando says. “I was probably 12 or something [when I started].” He worked in several local restaurants before settling in at French Meadow Bakery for nearly eight years. That’s when Kalinka arrived.
She had finished hospitality school in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and found a job at Pazzaluna in St. Paul. The two met through the industry, fell in love and the rest (of that part of the story) is history.
Fernando, still at French Meadow, was ready for the next adventure. “I thought, this is it. We need the next thing—the next phase,” he says, so they started looking for their own restaurant space.
It was on a walk through Linden Hills, checking out garage sales, when the universe gave a push. “We were across the street looking at this restaurant like, ‘Oh my gosh look at this place. This is fantastic,’” Fernando says of the restaurant built in an old firehouse. “It was an early spring day, and we were just in love with it. We imagined if we worked really hard, maybe within 10 years we could have a restaurant like that.”
Four months later the two got a call from a friend that the perfect location just opened up for them, and they should apply. They were given the address and knew it was Linden Hills, but it wasn’t until the second meeting with the owners that Fernando visited the space and immediately called Kalinka, saying, “This is the place we were dreaming of!”
“It was all this weird connectivity,” Fernando says. “We just felt good. Like, OK we’ve been chosen and this is a great spot, let’s work hard.”
And work hard they did.
“I think the first two years are the hardest,” Kalinka, who heads the pastry team, says. “Then it starts to get easier, and you enjoy working more.”
“You almost forget why you started,” Fernando says. “All you want to do is cook, but you can’t.” Paperwork, homework and management gets in the way. But the fact they did it as a family—with a then-3-year-old in tow—helped, Fernando says. “[Kalinka] does the pastry. I’ll come up with the other parts of the menu. It’s a nice synergy,” he says.
In the six years since Harriet Brasserie opened, you’ll find some items on the menu haven’t changed. But that doesn’t mean creating the menu was easy. “We want to be a brasserie, but we don’t want to be this weird, authentic French [restaurant],” Fernando says. “But I also don’t want to do a Brazilian restaurant. And I don’t want to do what other people are doing out there. We want to do a collective of things we’ve seen in the past, we’ve worked with in the past, and makes sense and is concise.”
Which is why many of the items on the menu are actually quite simple and based around the ingredients themselves. Those ingredients come from local vendors like Wild Acres and Peterson Farms, which inspired dishes like the duck tacos.
“You have one idea of what the restaurant is going to be, and the restaurant will start to tell you what it’s going to be,” Fernando says, laughing. “You feel like you have control, but you don’t.”
Especially when customers have favorites the Silva’s can’t take off the menu. “Everyone likes the burger,” Fernando says. “The truth is, it’s simple and that’s why it’s so good.”
While they still have things they want to work on in the restaurant (new kitchen appliances are on their wish list), the couple is grateful for what they have. “We’re really lucky,” Fernando says. “You want to do something you like, and you want to spend the day with people you like and love. And it works.”
Chef Tales: When Stars Align
Happenstance didn’t just hit the Silvas at Harriet Brasserie. In January of 2016, the couple had just gotten through a tough period at the restaurant. They bought out their partners, were working nonstop and didn’t have much cushion in terms of funds.
Fernando was picking up their son, Yuri, at school when he got a call from Be The Match. “I thought it was a dating service,” Fernando says, laughing. “I was like, I didn’t sign up for this!”
But he did sign up—for the bone marrow and blood stem cell donor list. “He signed up before our son was born, and we forgot about it,” Kalinka says. Yuri was 7, and the patient who matched Fernando was a 6-year-old girl.
He had to fill out a questionnaire: What do you do for a living? How’s your schedule? “But I was in a situation where I was, for three years, working seven days a week, straight up. No stop,” Fernando says. “But then you receive this call, and it makes you think about what’s going on with you. It wasn’t just about donating. What are we doing here with our lives?”
Once he said yes to the donation, the stress surrounding the restaurant faded away. Those day-to-day issues became secondary, Fernando says.
The day of the operation about a month after the initial call, the Silvas walked from their hotel room, connected to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, to the hospital. They were waiting for the elevator to arrive and take them to the floor where everything would happen. The doors opened and out walked another Mayo patient. The Dalai Lama.
“You’re thinking if you’re doing the right thing and get that sign,” Fernando says. “He was the first person we saw that morning. He did a long turn and fixated his eye on me.” He proceeded to straighten Fernando’s shirt and hat, said some words of wisdom that neither Silva can remember due to shock and moved along. “He was like my uncle trying to get me ready for the school bus. It was awesome,” he says.
Those signs, like Fernando waking up from the operation on March 1, his birthday, have followed the Silvas in every aspect of their lives. “When we finally reached a point of success [at the restaurant], that’s when Be The Match happened,” Fernando says. Even six months earlier, he might not have been able to afford three days off of work. “There was an alignment,” he explains.
Now, a little girl got a second chance at life. “Imagine if she grows up to be someone extremely important,” Fernando says. And the Silvas know Fernando can take a day off.
To learn more about Be The Match, including how to get on the donor list, visit the website here.