Gael’s Gourmet will celebrate its fourth year in St. Louis Park in March, but owner Thomas Wilson has been slinging pizza for over a decade, slowly perfecting the offerings.
“I started at American Pie back in 2006,” in Richfield, he says, eventually buying his own location. To truly be his own boss, however, he came to St. Louis Park to open Gael’s—named after his alma mater’s mascot, the Saint Mary’s College of California Gaels.
Wilson grew up in Edina, so he knew the area well, and “it’s a great pizza market,” he says. “It’s a good neighborhood and a good fit.” But starting his own shop meant starting from scratch, and that’s how he decided to make all the items on the extensive menu: in-house, from scratch. From pizzas to pastas, desserts to salad dressings, Wilson has recipes for everything.
Menu favorites include the supreme pizza, which boasts nine toppings on a thin crust. “The sauce is a little bit spicier than a lot of places,” he says. Another favorite is the Italian pizza, which is similar to a meat lover’s pizza. “It’s a little bit different because we put capicola salami on there, which gives it a little more flavor. So it’s pepperoni, sausage, spicy sausage, capicola, salami and meatball.”
“The menu changes about three times a year,” Wilson says. “I try to change about 15 percent of the menu for the seasons.” That means the winter menu gets a handful of soups added—again made in-house. “We do a chicken wild rice that is amazing,” he says, and a roasted red pepper, along with a changing soup of the day. “I have a full recipe book for soups to pick through.”
Gael’s sells a lot of pasta and burgers, he says, and those burgers are always fresh beef patties. A big part of his business is catering. “We do catering for up to 500 people,” Wilson says.
Just as he gives much of himself to his fresh-made foods, Wilson also gives back to the community. He takes part in St. Louis Park’s STEP program every year as well as a lot of church fundraisers. Other events on the list include the Michael J. Fox fundraiser, and Wilson also contributes to the Courage Center, in honor of a friend who is partially paralyzed. Community sports teams are also regular recipients of Gael’s giving. “I can’t say no if someone comes in,” he says. “We’re part of the community and we need to help out. Everybody eventually needs some sort of help.”
While one of the perks of owning your own business is being your own boss, Wilson says he loves being there for the customer. It’s about “making the customer happy and satisfied,” he says. “Especially being open later at night, we give them an option for someone who works that second shift. If they get home at 11 or 12 o’clock at night and they don’t feel like cooking, we’re here.”
Max’s owner Ellen Hertz has some Valentine’s Day tips to help you pick out the best chocolate for your sweetie.
“Start with, ‘OK, I want to get some chocolates for Valentine’s Day,’” she says. “Then it becomes really like a decision tree.” Does it need to be in a heart-shaped box? Filled chocolates or chocolate bars? Milk chocolate or dark chocolate? “Sometimes they know, if it’s for a significant other or parent or child,” she says. And sometimes they don’t—which often means an assortment box is the best choice. Or “When all else fails,” she says, “get the chocolate-covered sea salt caramels.”
How does Hertz pick the chocolates in her store? “There are one of two ways that the chocolate winds up here,” she says. Either she finds the chocolatier at Fancy Food Show, or someone contacts her. The Fancy Food show includes chocolate (and other specialty food items) from all over the world. “I’m looking for things that are different, I’m looking for things that are artisan-made,” she says. “It starts with the sourcing of the beans. It’s important to me that these aren’t chock-full of preservatives and wax. It’s a health thing and it’s also a taste thing.”
And tasting those chocolates is as tough as you imagine. “I’ve sacrificed my waistline,” she jokes.