When you open a restaurant during a pandemic, nothing about your process is going to be ‘normal.’ “We don’t even know what normal is,” said Kasara Carter. In July 2020, Kasara and her husband, Charles opened Taste of Rondo, a restaurant in the historic Black Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul that serves up the soul food its residents grew up eating. The couples’ key to their successful small business journey was never losing sight of their destination.
The concept behind Taste of Rondo had always been near to Kasara’s heart. “My whole family is Rondo-rooted. My grandparents, their parents, everyone grew up in St. Paul in the Rondo community. It’s a very special place for me,” she said. In the mid-1950s, Rondo was a thriving Black neighborhood, but the construction of I-94 split the community in half and knocked out many homes and small businesses. “There’s always been a need for something that helps our community rebuild, and we decided we wanted to provide that. What better way to do it than over food?” Kasara explained. “It took us some time, but when we kept the end result in mind, we were able to keep moving forward no matter what happened.”
Over the five-year journey to opening the restaurant, a lot happened. Kasara and Charles chose a historic building — “the first Black American Legion in the country,” Kasara said. “ To even get the restaurant in that location, there were tons of issues with taxes and licensing.” Taste of Rondo couldn’t be grandfathered into the former American Legion’s licensing, so the couple had to start everything from scratch. The construction required to restore the building also didn’t go according to plan: The build was scheduled to be finished in January of 2020, but social distancing protocol for contractors and supply chain shortages slowed the process by several months.
Jumping over these hurdles didn’t just require extra time, it required extra funding. “Charles and I held onto our corporate gigs throughout, because we weren’t able to break off and be self-sustaining yet,” Kasara said. “A lot of our personal money went into the restaurant to buy inventory and cover upkeep.” The small business loans that many businesses got during the pandemic didn’t apply to Taste of Rondo because it was a brand-new operation. To find the funding they needed, Kasara and Charles tapped community resources. “ We knocked on doors, kissed babies, shook hands, everything we could do to work with the community to get the business off the ground,” she said. “We learned to grant write, and we got a small line of credit and grants for the buildout through the city. We got really creative.”
Since the first construction project, that creativity and tenacity have kept Taste of Rondo afloat, and Kasara attributes the restaurant’s success to her and Charles’ perseverance. “Small businesses aren’t made overnight, it takes work and dedication for them to take off,” Kasara said. “If you’re looking to become an entrepreneur, you have to have tenacity and you have to have thick skin. You have to be able to hear ‘no’ and not let that be the final say.”
Today, Taste of Rondo is a thriving restaurant where people come to reconnect. “We wanted it to be a place where families could gather, where you could have a cocktail with a business colleague, or even just watch the game. We’ve checked all those boxes, so folks are super supportive,” Kasara shares.
Business is steadily increasing — Charles was able to leave his corporate job last summer, and they’ve expanded outdoor seating and added Rondo-inspired art all over the building. The restaurant has become a hub for the community that inspired Kasara to keep trying, no matter what — “At Taste of Rondo, you might come in as a stranger, but you’re going to leave as a friend.”
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