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Rachel and Scott Franz, with daughter, Zinnia, and son, Quentin, opened Ely's Ivy in downtown Grand Forks 18 months ago. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks restaurant offers revolving menu with local ingredients

Maintaining an ever-changing menu with local ingredients while lowering the business’ carbon footprint are hallmarks of Ely’s Ivy, a restaurant run by husband and wife team Scott and Rachel Franz in the former Sander's 1902 location in downtown Grand Forks.

"It first started as 'Elephants and Ivy', “ said Scott Franz, referring to the unique name. “And we shortened it to Ely's and played with the spelling of it.”

"Those elephant heads were a remnant from Sander's," said Rachel Franz, referring to the brass elephant head designs located on the bar railing. The elephant designs plus the ivy on the building yielded the name.

"If we stick around for long enough, it'd just become a staple," Scott Franz said with a chuckle.

Ely’s Ivy, which opened November 2017 on North Third Street with the first name pronounced “Ellie’s,” serves seasonal and locally sourced food and drink with an eye to re-connecting diners with where their food originates, while reducing its carbon footprint by serving some food “farm to table.”

Scott Franz has spent most of his career in the kitchen, with a somewhat vision at the start.

"I actually played a lot of music back in the day," he said. "I ended up cooking as kind of a fallback; that's why I moved to Colorado. I ended up working in some really nice restaurants out there and learning a lot."

He got his start in East Grand Forks working at the Riverbend restaurant, where he met Rachel, also employed there at the time. After the stint in Colorado, he returned to Grand Forks to work, eventually assisting in opening the Toasted Frog, where he is part owner, and traveling around North Dakota to open other Toasted Frog branches.

Rachel Franz has an equally long history in the restaurant business, though in the front of the house, while frequently working with Scott, before eventually marrying him.

"We worked on and off together through the Riverbend and the Country Club, the Toasted Frog and now here," she said. "I spent probably my longest portion of time working at the Parrot's Cay, but then stepped back. We had kids so I wasn't working as much there until we opened this place."

So, does working together pose any problems for the married couple?

"Well, we don't really," said Rachel Franz, with a laugh.

"We don't see each other," Scott Franz agreed. "This is a rare occurrence.”

"We split our family time and our work time up; we have two young kids that aren't in school yet. If one of us is here working, one of us is at home with the kids and vise versa, unless there is a special event or project we're working on together here," Rachel Franz said. "We kind of run a business together and see it from two different angles entirely.”

Though Ely’s Ivy has a full bar and offers unique cocktails, such as its Summertime Old Fashioned featuring muddled peach, food and a family environment has always been the primary goal.

“It’s great to be in here and see kids and have them be a part of it,” Scott Franz said.

Sourcing the food has been a challenge, especially getting seasonal and locally produced items.

"A lot of times when you try to source stuff specifically, like ingredients, you can't get them or they're not in season," said Scott Franz. "The farms that we're dealing with are so small that trying to get a stream of the same stuff is pretty hard.”

Some of the restaurant's suppliers include Meadowlark Gardens from Park River, Doubting Thomas Farms in Moorhead and Szymanski Farms in Thief River Falls.

The difficulty in sourcing food locally results in a constantly changing menu, which is part of the restaurant’s concept.

"That's kind of the idea of this restaurant, to be able to change and adapt," said Scott Franz. "Being in the same restaurant for so many years, and the same menu, you do daily specials and they sell very well, but people get sick of the main menu. We thought, why don't we just make our main menu always changing?

"That's been maybe a little bit different for some people to get used to, but I think it's been good overall and a huge part of what we do," he said.

Changing ingredients does pose challenges in menu creation.

"A lot of times I'll just work backward. Last week I got a bunch of Romaine, so we did lettuce wraps and they sold like hot cakes," said Scott Franz, mentioning that at one time he kept an “idea box” for creating new recipes.

"I used to have an idea box, where I'd write down ideas and stick them in a box and go through them and try to develop it into a recipe later on. A lot of singer songwriters do that," said Scott Franz.

"A lot of times we take inspiration from ingredients that come at you …. a lot of times people just come through the door and say: ‘Hey, I have this. Would you want to buy it'?” said Rachel Franz, noting that they also purchase through suppliers for specialty items, such as camel for a camel burger.

Not every item is as exotic as camel. Blackened walleye, grilled salmon, bison and New York strip steaks make their appearance as well as a Szymanski Farm's burger. More unique items, such as duck lettuce wraps, a roasted beet salad and a Cuban fried pickle appetizer, round out the menu -- which is subject to change.

Keeping a low carbon footprint is also important to the co-owning couple, who took that in mind when selecting beer.

"They're all within 100 miles," said Scott Franz, referring to such brews as Half Brothers from Grand Forks and Drekker from Fargo.

"Half Brothers is down the street and they'd walk it (the keg) over. They'd just wheel it down the street, we'd hook it to our line and we'd pour it into a glass we wash here. When it's empty, they'd come pick it up. There's no waste. There's no bottles going in the trash," said Scott Franz.

Along with that commitment to keeping the carbon footprint low and serving locally produced food and drink, part of the concept behind Ely's Ivy is to reconnect people with where their food originates.

"I think people have really lost that," said Scott Franz, adding that serving locally produced food allows him to help tie food to a location.

Ely's Ivy is open is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

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