Wooden Spoon: Making dough, doing good | Millennial


Natasha Frost and her dedicated team at Wooden Spoon are stirring up quality food along with a generous side dish of community service.

Frost’s recipe for success at the Old Town cafe involves equal parts tasty yet nutritious ingredients and locally sourced products plus a cupful of community awareness—all topped with a heavy sprinkle of hard work from dedicated team members.

Appealing regular breakfast and lunch menu items at Wooden Spoon highlight sandwiches and wraps (don’t miss their Kato Classic, a mouth-watering grilled cheese concoction featuring sharp cheddar, smoked provolone and feta with a roasted garlic spread on Italian sourdough), savory pulled pork and made-from-scratch soups, including a gluten-free creamy chicken wild rice (the latter sourced from the Red Lake Nation’s KC’s Best) and the Spokato, a cream-based sausage/potato/kale creation layered with flavor.

“People can eat in or outside, and we also have a lot of take-and-bake items and fresh or frozen soups,” said Frost, who took the reins of Wooden Spoon with a core group of women over four years ago.

Keto, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free options are available, as are a lot of daily baked goods—muffins, pastries, cookies, quick breads, cupcakes and cakes—and some “fun [chex-mix] candy,” Frost says.

An on-site fruit dehydrator at Wooden Spoon is frequently busy in an effort to reduce food waste; the resulting dried fruit is often used in fresh-made granola incorporating honey from Madelia’s Moody Bees.

“If you’re running, hiking or biking, grab some packets of our granola for quick, healthy energy,” recommended Frost, noting a few other area producers with whom they partner: UpBeet Acres, Schmidt’s Meat Market and George’s Meat Market.

General catering services—all zero-waste, using compostable or reusable plates and silverware—are also part of Wooden Spoon’s repertoire.

“We cater for funerals, weddings and special events and have catered for groups of 10 to 600,” said Frost.

“We have a catering menu, but the nice thing is (team member) Nicole Lange works with each customer to make the experience unique and personal. We want to help customers find the best option for their individual catering needs.”

More than just a cafe

But Wooden Spoon and those behind it are about so much more than just the visible storefront at 515 N. Riverfront Drive.

Mankato native Frost is a licensed attorney as well as a passionate advocate for food security, food recovery and sound nutrition for all kids.

“One of my areas of expertise is nutrition policy for kids, so we used my deep knowledge of federal nutrition policies to come up with a healthful meal plan that matches the federal government’s requirements along with the needs for licensing,” said Frost.

“That helped me expand Wooden Spoon’s efforts into the child care catering arena [beginning in 2016], and it’s been really fun.”

Today, Wooden Spoon caters to six Head Start programs (two in Mankato and four in surrounding rural areas) plus two year-round daycare centers.

“And this past year, we catered for two K-12 charter schools,” said Frost.

Frost readily credits Wooden Spoon’s Ashley Singleton with the ability to produce on a daily basis more than 500 healthful lunches that kids will actually eat.

“The meals are all nutritionally balanced,” said Frost, mentioning entrees like tomato-based, whole-grain pasta bakes with extra veggies tossed in or lean proteins like chicken or lean ground beef complemented by fruit.

“We try to keep it simple,” said Frost.

Frost combines her legal training and restaurant experience in another venture, Seed 2 Roots. In that endeavor, she works with communities to improve policies and systems that support overall community health—for instance, helping a hospital embed nutrition standards at an on-site cafeteria.

“But I’m not just a policy wonk sitting at a computer doing legal research because I’m also a business owner who understands the economy and labor and what it takes to do food preparation, shopping, pricing and menu creation,” said Frost.

“I can see it from both sides.”

Wooden Spoon takes it one step further, regularly setting aside revenue potential for the sake of community building.

MY Place (Mankato Youth Place) is one of the beneficiaries. Wooden Spoon provides hot meals for the shoestring-budgeted non-profit that serves youths from kindergarten through eighth grade with its free out-of-school programming. Its constituents are typically experiencing poverty.

“They’re living their mission every day,” said Erin Simmons, MY Place director.

“It’s not like they’re just throwing something together for us; they’re making it with love.

“They understand the kids we serve need access to healthy, nutritious food—and that’s what they get.”

Lean proteins, whole grains and oodles of vegetables are incorporated into the 40 meals Wooden Spoon provides each day at no charge for MY Place.

“MY Place wouldn’t be the program it is without their food support,” said Simmons.

“They sacrifice their own potential for profit to be of service—and their team, which is full of doers, is an absolute treasure to Mankato.

“If they know there is a food-related problem, they’re the first ones to stand up and say, ‘We’re on it, we’ve got this.’”

Old Town proud

Further proof that Wooden Spoon is community-focused comes in the form of Frost’s involvement as secretary of the Old Town Association Board.

“We’re deeply committed to ensuring that Old Town is a place for small businesses to thrive, and it’s fun to see its resurgence,” said Frost.

“We [Old Town businesses] worked together during the pandemic to help each other out, and we’re thrilled that the area will soon be more walkable so customers can come to Wooden Spoon for their favorite baked goods, then hear music at the Hub or walk to get ice cream.”

Speaking of ice cream, Casey Neitzel of Old Town’s Mom & Pop’s specialty ice cream parlor is a fellow advocate for Frost’s vision.

“We’re on the board together, and when I was the new kid on the block in 2019, Natasha reached out and offered support,” said Neitzel, whose shop offers 32 flavors of ice cream along with house-made gelato and sorbet.

“Natasha is wonderful to work with. Anytime a collaboration idea comes along, like our pie shakes last fall, we’re more than happy to jump in and have some fun.”

Another neighboring proprietor, Jenna Odegard of Bumbelou and Hazelkin & Co., praises Frost and the talents she and her Wooden Spoon team bring to Old Town.

“Natasha is a passionate and thoughtful leader,” said Odegard. “Her partnerships with other small businesses and nonprofits have created waves of change.

“She also has a gift for seeing people’s strengths and for sharing gratitude or an encouraging word,” Odegard continued.

“Despite her busy schedule, Natasha continues to make time to be involved and invested in the Old Town community, advocating for arts, culture and inclusivity.”

One more example of that mindset is Wooden Spoon’s commitment to the reduction and elimination of food waste—an undertaking Frost has now spun off into a separate non-profit, South Central Minnesota Food Recovery.

“It’s important to save food and get it into the hands of those who need it,” said Frost.

When it’s time for this busy woman to relax and eat, Frost admits to a weakness for the masterful mashed potatoes produced by B Rasmussen, Wooden Spoon’s vice president, kitchen manager and inventive chef.

“I really enjoy some of our catering items, and my favorite is B’s traditional dinner,” said Frost, listing a tantalizing menu of honey ham, turkey breast, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, steamed veggies, mixed green salad and dinner rolls.

“Her mashed potatoes are one of my favorite things.”

Simmons of MY Place can similarly attest to the quality of Rasmussen’s mashed potatoes, as well as to her tasty pizza hot dishes, cheesy chicken and rice casserole and shepherd’s pie (shhhh—it’s made with riced cauliflower).

“One of our kids gave Wooden Spoon the biggest compliment recently,” said Simmons.

“He said, ‘Wooden Spoon is bussiness.’”

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