The Coop Restaurant has been a staple of South Saint Paul since 1963 and it continues to thrive today. Bob and Karen Hanson purchased The Coop, located at 157 3rd Avenue South, South St. Paul, MN 55075 (651.455.7566) in 2001. Karen was born and raised in South Saint Paul, Bob was born and raised in Inver Grove Heights. Son Joel is the General Manager and it’s a true family affair and the best darn chicken in the area. But The Coop has more than just chicken. The menu now includes coney’s, burgers, fish, ribs, appetizers and more.
Read below to find out more about this legendary South Saint Paul restaurant in this Q&A with Karen Hanson:
Eat IGH: When did you take over The Coop? What attracted you to the business?
Karen Hanson: We purchased The Coop in 2001. There were many things that attracted us to The Coop. We liked the idea of a corner neighborhood restaurant and we were also attracted to the rental property associated with it. There are three apartments in the building, along with a house behind The Coop. We thought it would be a fun experience, and a great employment opportunity for our kids, who were teenagers at the time. I was born and raised in South St. Paul and quickly fell in love with owning a business in my home town. Packer Pride.
Eat IGH: Where are you all from? Tell is about the family members that are involved in running the day-to-day operations of The Coop.
Karen Hanson: Bob and (I) live in Inver Grove Heights. I (Karen) was born and raised in SSP and Bob in IGH. Son Joel is the General Manager and he and his wife Kristyna (also an employee) live in South St. Paul. Our daughter, Chelsea, (a former employee) along with her husband, Jake, live in Rosemount.
Eat IGH: There aren’t many places to get good chicken in the area. Can you describe how your chicken is cooked? Most people think it’s broasted. Is that correct?
Karen Hanson: Broaster is a brand of a pressure fryer. We prepare our chicken using a pressure frying method but we do not use the Broaster branded pressure fryer. The chicken we use is fresh, never frozen. We trim excess fat off each and every piece of chicken before we prepare it. I can’t tell you how we prepare it, you know, if we told you we would have to kill ya. After it is prepared it is put in the refrigerator and we wait for the order to come in. We don’t make any chicken up ahead of time. All food is made to order. Once ordered we season and bread the chicken and drop it into the pressure fryer, clamp down the lid and fry it under pressure. By using this pressure method, versus open frying, we seal in the chicken’s natural juices and lock out the cooking oil. It provides a flavorful, awesome product.
Eat IGH: People are big on locally sourced meat/food these days, do you work with any other local farmers/distributors for your products?
Karen Hanson: We only use the Gold’n Plump® brand of chicken. Gold’n Plump has been in business since 1929 and is a Minnesota company (based in St. Cloud). We purchase our ribs from two different South St. Paul meat companies. Our other products come mainly from US Foods or Reinhart. In the summer I shop the local farmers markets if we have a need for salads (off our catering menu).
Eat IGH: The Coop is known for chicken, but has much more to offer on its menu. What can you tell us about the rest of the menu?
Karen Hanson: Customers love our coneys. We load up a hotdog with onions, mustard and our own special coney sauce and sell them by the dozens. We also make homemade tender pork BBQ ribs that we season just right and top them off with our homemade barbecue sauce. Our burgers are also a big hit. They are very flavorful and our double bacon cheeseburger is the most popular. We also sell walleye, cod and shrimp. We sell homemade chili in the fall/winter. We have a wide variety of state fair type food: Mini donuts, mini corn dogs, cheese curds, mozzarella sticks, mini tacos and more.
Eat IGH: It’s been tough for the small independent restaurant to succeed in SSP and IGH. What has been the the key to the long-term success of The Coop?
Karen Hanson: Not sure what the key is. We make good food, hire nice employees, treat customers with kindness and just keep plugging along. Social media has helped get our name out. We have had a lot of new customers. We introduce a new item every now and then but many don’t catch on and we go back to what we do best. We promote the “shop small and keep it local” slogan and customers truly appreciate having a local family-owned restaurant in their own town. Our son, Joel, the general manager, takes great pride in the Coop.
Eat IGH: Did you or Bob have any experience owning a business or restaurant prior to buying The Coop?
Karen Hanson: Bob worked at a robotics company prior to purchasing The Coop. In that capacity he spent a good amount of time working with McDonalds helping them develop restaurant automation. I worked for CHS Inc. as a paralegal until 2015. Both Bob and I worked at a restaurant way back in our high school days. We always thought it would be interesting to own a little restaurant but never really thought seriously about it until this opportunity arose. My dad was a chef in the army, made sausage and worked at Swifts, so maybe cooking is in my blood. We have his picture hanging in the restaurant. He was so proud of us for buying The Coop. I wish he was still alive to enjoy it with us.
Eat IGH: There is a lot of open real estate in IGH. Would you ever consider moving or expanding to Inver Grove Heights?
Karen Hanson: Right now we are keeping plenty busy with just one restaurant. I think another restaurant would go over well in IGH but not sure we are up for it. We are very busy trying to grow the catering business – weddings, funerals, graduations, birthdays. We offer full service catering. Ribs, chicken, au gratin potatoes, baked beans and more.
Eat IGH: What do you want to say when you hear people say IGH or SSP should have more diverse restaurant options?
Karen Hanson: As a resident of IGH I would also like to see more diverse restaurants in IGH. We go out to eat a lot and try to stay local. But all the variety that Woodbury and Eagan has is tempting. And just because we want them here isn’t enough. Restaurants fail all the time. Before they come they do their homework and won’t make the investment if they are not going to succeed. From what I have been told, we (IGH) don’t have the traffic to attract them to our town. We have restaurants like A&W that nobody can see. We need to reconfigure the visibility and access in that area. The Upper 55th Street/494 area is a good location for restaurants. I am hoping Arbor Pointe takes off soon. Everyone needs to try to spend money in their town. Try out the local spots.
Eat IGH: What else should people know about The Coop Restaurant?
Karen Hanson: We truly appreciate all of the local customers that stop in – some come in everyday. Our employees do a great job.