The owners of Columbus’ three Northstar Café locations continue to serve up success as they feed their customers locally grown, organic and artisanal foods.
Kevin and Katy Malhame opened the first Northstar Café on High Street in the Short North in the fall of 2004.
By the fall of 2005, Kevin’s brother, Darren Malhame, moved his family back to Ohio, leaving behind a career as an attorney in Washington, D.C., to help run and expand the business.
“The passion my brother and sister-in-law had for what they were doing — trying to change the world and be the best at what they do — that was what attracted me to this business,” Darren said. “You could tell they were doing a lot of things right. They opened that first restaurant on the super cheap but still they won an AIA design award and a Best New Columbus Restaurant award right after opening.”
Kevin and Katy Malhame both spent time in the service industry prior to opening Northstar Café. Kevin said they were in love with the world of food and wine and wanted to be a part of something meaningful to them.
“We wanted to have a positive impact on the community and feel the satisfaction of doing something meaningful,” Kevin said. “So we wanted to open something approachable on a daily basis, serving delicious foods that are both good for our bodies and the world around us.
“It was a pretty idealistic goal and we were naïve, but managed to work it out as we planned.”
That idealism isn’t just lip-service, according to Kevin, who said the restaurant works with a number of local growers and certain local single-ingredient suppliers, as well as finding ways to work with larger suppliers to source specialty artisanal and local ingredients.
“It’s challenging to work with small growers and providers, because it takes more organization to get all that you need from several different purveyors,” he said. “We like working with Krema Nut, but we have to go and pick up our 100 pounds of peanut butter every week from them. “Ultimately, we hope that all restaurants shift to work this way. Right now, there are no other restaurants as committed to working with this type of single-ingredient ordering as us at our price range.”
Northstar Café opened a Clintonville location in 2007 and an Easton location in 2010. The three restaurants currently employ about 230 people, according to Darren Malhame.
The family also owns the Grandview-based Third and Hollywood restaurant, which opened in 2009.
“We have a lot of plans to continue to invest in the restaurants we have and grow them,” Darren said. “Three-quarters of our managers are also investors, and the thing for us is that we’re really proud of the work we’re doing. Not much can outweigh that. Being a modestly sized business is really a choice, especially when you’re successful.”
The Malhames all agreed that the keys to their success have been their willingness to invest in quality people, ingredients and their community.
According to Kevin Malhame, that means “having great people on our team, in our kitchens, dining rooms, committed to making people happy, with a leadership team invested in the business committed to the long-term.”