By Lisa Kaczke for the Duluth News Tribune
Inside the space that once housed the Original Coney Island on East Superior Street, a server scooped and ate the last of the roasted cauliflower off her plate before Nyanyika Banda brought plates of salad and bowls of ramen out of the kitchen on Sunday afternoon.
The half-dozen staff seated at the bar on Sunday were training ahead of the Wednesday opening of Banda’s new restaurant, Martha’s Daughter, at 107 E. Superior St. Between bites of food, the staff took notes on the taste and list of ingredients in each dish.
While Banda oversaw the cooking in the kitchen, front house manager Kathleen Roberts led the servers in discussing the dishes, asking, “What would you pair this with?”
Behind the servers seated at the bar, empty tables set with red napkins and silverware sat ready for the first patrons on Wednesday night. Martha’s Daughter will open for a limited special dinner on Wednesday and then begin providing full-day service on Thursday.
Coney Island closed its Superior Street location last year, but the sign for the restaurant that first opened in 1921 is still posted on the building’s exterior. Banda overhauled the interior for her new restaurant, but people may recognize a few of the items — the windows have remained the same, the barstools have been reupholstered and part of the bar was repurposed.
Banda said she’s wanted to open a restaurant in Duluth since she first moved to the city in 2005 and it hasn’t sunk in yet that she’s about to fulfill that dream.
“I fell in love with Lake Superior and I always thought it would be great to have a restaurant somewhere on this side of the lake,” she said.
Banda has previously done catering and had popup restaurants in Duluth.
Roberts noted that Martha’s Daughter provides a different point of view because there are few female voices in the restaurant scene — in Duluth or elsewhere. The world misses out on what women can bring to the table, she said.
The food and beverages served in the restaurant will be carefully sourced from local farmers and producers who use sustainable practices, Roberts said.
“As far as the stuff I do, control the beverage selection, I’m trying to bring in as many women and people of color producers as I can find that are making this awesome stuff. You see all this stuff from fancy dudes in Burgundy and their wine is amazing, but there’s all this great stuff out there that’s a little off the beaten path,” Roberts said.
Banda said it’s exciting to have a restaurant where there are opportunities for women.
“I started working in restaurants 20 years ago so there weren’t a lot of women in kitchens and I often was only one of a few in the back of the house. I think especially in the past year, the act of feminism has become a lot more important to me — and making a conscious effort to seek out women who are doing cool stuff in culinary,” she said.
Roberts was brought on board at Martha’s Daughter six months ago after working previously with Banda. They have the same attitude about wanting to provide excellence in the dining experience without being intimidating or snobby about the food, Roberts said.
“We want people to be able to roll in here after a day of doing landscaping or a day of being a professor and feel comfortable,” Roberts said.