Stillwater named one of the Top 10 food scenes by ‘USA Today’


Creative Commons by David Joles - Star Tribune

Cars and people bustle into Downtown Stillwater’s food scene. Historical buildings are filled with restaurants, boutiques and vintage shops. Downtown Stillwater is the core of the food scene announced by ‘USA Today’.

Jay Lohr, Food Blog Reporter

Stillwater Minnesota was announced to be one of the top ten small town food scenes by ‘USA Today’ on June 1. Ranked at number five, Stillwater is a historic staple that showcases local flavors by chef-driven restaurants. The food scene in Stillwater holds many hidden treasures and carries a variety of foods and drinks. Because of its unique stature, Stillwater was named a must-visit destination. 

Although Stillwater is labeled a small town, the flavors within the town are far larger. By having a population of under 25,000, holding a big food scene with chef-driven restaurants, local flavors and plenty of variety, Stillwater was placed on the list. On the other hand, with all of this praise comes pressure.

“I am very grateful that Downtown Stillwater is known for having great food,” senior Barista Olivia Hovland said, a barista at Mex! Cafe. “Sometimes it can be stressful because we have to make sure we are consistent with our services and provide the best care for everyone.”

Downtown Stillwater holds a variety of food options from American cuisine to Italian cuisine, etc. However, food is not the only thing found in Stillwater. This town is filled with vintage shops, boutiques, and events. With a small, historical town like Stillwater being known on a national level, many can say they feel pride in Stillwater.

“I definitely feel a sense of pride knowing Stillwater is renowned for its food scenes,” Hovland said.

 Being named one of the best food scenes, Stillwater’s small businesses are starting to gain the recognition they deserve. Being one of the best food scenes is not only a title, but it helps support small businesses and sole proprietors in our own city. Using this publicity to get their voices out, small family owned businesses can stay and keep the historical authenticity of Stillwater.

Hovland thinks this is very significant because Downtown Stillwater is predominantly local/family businesses. To her, it means a lot knowing that people are contributing to the local economy during these uncertain times.

I think part of the magnet of this town is the beautiful river, the old architecture in town, and then with that you have great food, great restaurants.”

— Chief Operating Officer for Acapulco restaurants Sam Leon

A factor that holds Stillwater at such an esteemed town to own a restaurant in is because of the people. From a business perspective, the people of Stillwater are one of the most loyal customers a business can ask for. That’s one of the reasons why a wide variety of businesses and restaurants thrive here.

To Sam Leon, the Chief Operating Officer for Acapulco restaurants, running a restaurant in Stillwater is “Awesome because it still has that small town mentality unlike, per se Minneapolis or St. Paul.” There are still people that know a lot of people. In Leon’s eyes, the Stillwater clientele are very loyal. When you’re good to them, they are good to you.

In addition, a factor that makes Stillwater such a unique small town food scene is the amount of small businesses that keep the authentic feel of a small town in their roots. Unlike bigger cities that are filled with a number of food chains, a small town like Stillwater keeps the restaurant’s connection with family owners very close. 

Leon explained how most towns do not have owner operated restaurants. He would say we’re probably in the 90 percentile of having owner operated restaurants. We could walk into Acapulco restaurants and there’s always a family member there.

However, being given the title of being one of the best food scenes, many may wonder how this will change Stillwater. With the new light being put on Stillwater, it is sure to provide big things for the bright future. This title will bring positive change and further promote the small historical town known as Stillwater.

Leon predicts the new title will not change for the worse because of the family owned restaurants. “They’re here, they’ve been here and they’re here to stay.” If anything, Leo believes it will make things nicer.

“I just feel proud to be honest with you, very proud to be a part of this community. I just feel honored and humbled to have repeat customers. Just the nice customers who have come to our restaurant time and time again,” Leon said. Stillwater is a hidden gem that those across the country aren’t aware of. The people, the food, the history and the culture of Stillwater is something that captivates those who visit. It might be a small town, but is packed with big flavors.