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The Family Table

Scott and Rachel Franz are all in at Ely’s Ivy: their chef-inspired, farm-to-table, beautifully reimagined restaurant

For Rachel and Scott Franz, choosing a favorite spot in their restaurant can be difficult. The easy choice is always the front corner booth. Lined by a massive window, the booth is a natural anchor spot of the entire facility, allowing patrons to see and experience the atmosphere of the restaurant while watching the flow of downtown Grand Forks outside. Rachel also has a soft spot for a round table tucked away near the center of the eatery. The round table is popular for families. A multi-paned window sheds light into the space as if the spot was designed for a magazine shoot featuring multiple generations. Scott is proud of the long, custom cement chef table they had built after first purchasing the historic and revered downtown eatery once synonymous with fine-dining. From the table you can hear and see the commotion of the kitchen while dining with several friends or family members. Although the golden bar rail, complete with elephant head supports, isn’t an actual spot, both note how much they enjoy the feature of the place they renamed Ely’s Ivy after acquiring the eatery nearly three years ago.

Much has changed for Rachel and Scott in that time, from their daily lives to Ely’s. They are all in at Ely’s now in a way they have never been before with any of their previous stops, jobs or roles at other dining establishments. On a quiet weekday, post essential business declarations and social distancing orders, the whole Franz family is there. Rachel takes online orders, hangs new wall art and shuffles iPad videos for her kids sitting in that front booth. After delivering a food order in his car, Scott returns to manning the kitchen, then the bar, then the iPads at the booth.

Despite the elegant ambiance and cool factor that remains from previous generations, Ely’s has changed. It is not Sander’s redone, Rachel says. Their version of the restaurant is a combination of family, friends, neighborhoods, farm-to-table ideals, local ingredients and Scott’s renowned and proven abilities as a celebrated head chef mixed with Rachel’s ability to create mini-gatherings and unique events that keep people coming in the doors. The weathered-yet-still impressive striped wood floor boards are there, along with the booths, the elephant head bar rail, the subway tiled chef wall in the back, the windows near the mini-park side of the building and the longstanding vines on the outside of the building. It’s like the Franz’s took an all-world restaurant facility and made it distinctly their own while maintaining many of the best features from before.

“We have always romanticized the place,” Rachel says. “We always had warm feelings for this place. We got engaged here.”

Although there was a sense of pressure and expectation to maintain the quality of the previous restaurant, Rachel says those days are over and the current strategy of operation is thriving.

“We have strived to be a neighborhood restaurant, yet sort of a destination spot as well. We make everything from scratch. There is a lot of love that goes into everything,” Scott says. Planning The Perfect Table Prior to opening Ely’s with his business partner and wife Rachel, Scott spent much of his adult working life in a commercial kitchen setting. In Grand Forks, he developed his skills at the River Bend Supper Club, Eagle’s Crest Grill and as a the head che,f and one-time partner at The Toasted Frog. During stints in Denver, Scott worked at high-end dining places and as a butcher at a butcher shop. Ely’s has allowed him to unleash what he learned along the way, including his ability to plan. Much of Ely’s menu is constantly revolving and changing, based on the availability of regionally sourced ingredients. Vegetables used at the restaurant like tomatoes come from the Park River, North Dakota, area. Certain meat cuts come from a rancher out West. A Fargo-farm is a great source of grains. “We work on availabilities at a hyper local level. We can use something for a little while and when it is gone, it is gone until it comes back,” he says. “My rancher that supplies us with ground beef is a good example. If he sold us all the tender loins that he produces in a year, we could sell that in a weekend.” Scott and Rachel embrace the challenge of sourcing local to keep their menu locally inspired. “I think it is really fun to do the planning,” he says. “People have lost a lot of the connection with what they eat. We have a strong connection with the people that supply us. Now, we are trying to make that connection to the people too.”

Rachel hangs art from regional artists on the walls and has also started including photographs of the farms and fields where some of Ely’s ingredients come from. A large canvas print of a picturesque summer field near Park River (home of their tomatoes) now hangs near the front entrance.

Although the menu is always being updated, both Scott and Rachel understand the power of the staple. At Ely’s the honey crusted walleye with honey crusted almonds is a favorite. “We’ve tried to replace it before,” Scott says, “but people just always ask for it.”

“You have to play to what your audience is,” Rachel says. “Finding and accepting your niche is important.” Rachel helped manage and launch several restaurants and believes her previous experience has helped her understand what success requires at Ely’s. She has created a unique tasting menu event that has been repeated several times and is typically sold-out shortly after people find out about it. In a former pool table room, along with other larger spaces that can accommodate up to 25 people, Rachel has positioned Ely’s as a great spot for business meetings, family gatherings and other multiple-person eating events.

The Elephant In Our Future At the time of this story, the social distancing efforts asking all restaurants and businesses to close their doors to in-person traffic had just started. At that time, the Franz’s were upbeat, if not a bit cloudy on the future. They smiled as they talked about the features of their place. Their children giggled and played in the background. Regardless of the situation outside their doors, it was easy to see that inside Ely’s they were at their home away from home—the type of place you put all your stakes, dreams and aspiriations into with the thought of forever. Entrepreneurs at heart, it is feasible if not probable they will open another venue or service—food related or not—in the future. For now, they work everyday to bring top chef food to the table with ingredients from the region. They want to see you there, your family and your friends. They want to know your first name, last name and what you’ve been up to. They want to talk about where the grass-fed beef in your burger came from and when a local hydroponics farmer will be supplying them with product. “It is important for me to convey that this place is about people. We are real people working here, owning it, running it,” Rachel says of the future. “We really value all of those relationships. The customer to us is more than just a ticket.” G

// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here

From Issue 2, 2020

PHOTOS BY: Manstrom Photography


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