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January 10, 2018

Restaurateur credits JCCC for solid business foundation

Although Scandinavian food may be all the rage in European cities right now, the concept is still catching on in the U.S. However, if married business partners Katee McLean and Josh Rogers have their way, Krokstrom Klubb & Market will forever change the way Kansas City perceives Northern European food.

“I want people who eat here to feel like they’ve traveled somewhere,” said McLean, executive chef and co-owner of the Scandinavian restaurant that opened two years ago in midtown Kansas City. Krokstrom Klubb serves the comfort food of her family’s Swedish heritage as well as the flavors of modern Nordic dishes, and elevates them with a twist of artistic foodie flair. Staples like pickled herring, whole-grain mustards and smoked salmon are sprinkled throughout the menu and served in a hip, modern way.

The Kansas City Star’s food critic called Krokstrom Klubb & Market “one of the most intriguing local restaurants to open in 2016,” and it made Feast online magazine’s list of top 10 “Kansas Citys Best New Restaurants of 2016.”

Restaurant concept started with family

Three generations ago, McLean’s family moved from Sweden to Elsmore, Kansas, and brought with them recipes and food from the old country. “Much of Swedish food is pickled, smoked or cured to preserve it during the long winter months,” McLean said. “Growing up, I was the only kid who brought pickled eggs in my lunch. As I got older, I appreciated my family’s ‘unique’ food so much more.”

McLean said all of her family’s stories center around food. “We’re a little food-obsessed,” she laughed. She grew up cooking with her dad from the time she was just a toddler. She always knew she wanted to open a Scandinavian restaurant; it was just a matter of when and where.

JCCC gave her the tools

After graduating from high school, McLean researched culinary schools and decided JCCC offered the best program for the money. “One of the things I really liked about the program is that it requires you to work while you’re in school,” she said. “The program also taught me how to handle the business side of being a chef. I had the cooking skills, but in order to open my own restaurant, I needed the business tools to make that happen.”

McLean is a 2009 graduate of the Chef Apprenticeship and Food and Beverage Management programs, and was a member of the award-winning culinary team that competed in Hong Kong and Singapore. “I wouldn’t be where I am today with all the connections and managerial skills if I hadn’t gone through that program," she said. "I’m a huge believer in it and try to hire a JCCC student or graduate whenever I can.”

It all led to this

Corporate restaurants taught McLean about customer service and recipe development; a successful independent showed her how to manage a small but busy restaurant; and the restaurant group gave her practice assessing what worked and what didn’t, and how to take the next steps. Rogers, who runs the front of house, managed several other restaurants before opening Krokstrom Klubb with McLean. The business plan they created for their restaurant was so well done that their bank asked if it could be used as a teaching tool for other startups.

When the opportunity presented itself to lease an old beer hall at 36th and Broadway, McLean and Rogers jumped at the chance.

McLean said people aren’t sure what to expect when they come to Krokstrom Klubb. “I look at the root of every traditional recipe and then think about how to make it a little more interesting. And I love the stories that go behind every dish. I don’t put anything on the menu that doesn’t have a story.”

And that includes the restaurant’s name: “Krokstrom” is her family name, “Klubb” means “gathering place” in Swedish, and “Market” pays homage to the Elsmore meat market owned by her great-grandfather.

New approach to comfort food

According to McLean, “So many people want comfort food, but they may not realize it doesn’t have to be super filling or really heavy. Smoked, pickled or cured food may not necessarily be appealing to people, but I make it over-the-top beautiful with tons of acidity and brightness. The ‘gateway dishes’ that win people over are the fried beets, smoked trout potato cake and Swedish meatballs. Then hopefully, they come back to try even more.”

Taste for adventure?

If you have the vision of bringing your own culture into a restaurant setting, JCCC’s Hospitality and Culinary program can help make that happen.