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Northstar's partners fully invested

Organic cafe is chamber's 2014 Business of the Year

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Northstar Cafe managers (from left) Josiah Littrell, Matt LaGrow, Paul Rudecki, Nicole Foley, Emily Gillespie, Kristen Holtvoigt and Erin Knox pose for a portrait Saturday, Feb. 8, at the restaurant. Northstar Cafe is the Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce's Business of the Year.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Too many cooks, it is said, spoil the broth, but a plethora of partners apparently does not ruin the restaurant.

Northstar Cafe has nearly 40 of them across its three organic eateries, with eight at the Clintonville location alone.

The restaurant at 4241 N. High St. has been named Business of the Year by the Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce.

"They provide reliably high-quality dining options for our community," patron Chris Hahnel wrote in nominating Northstar Cafe for the chamber award. "The employees are outstanding, as well as their customer service. Northstar restaurants serve local cuisine when possible, with efforts to lessen their environmental impact.

"The owners do a remarkable job managing their restaurants, especially the Clintonville-Beechwold one."

"We're very excited about it," said Kevin Malhame, who founded the first Northstar Cafe with his sister, Katie, in 2004.

"We're joyed," said their brother, Darren Malhame, also part of the extended team of manager-partners in the three-chain enterprise.

The other two cafes are at 951 N. High St. in the Short North and 4015 Townsfair Way at Easton.

"We love it," Darren Malhame said. "It's really nice to be recognized by the business community. We're lucky in our business in that we get the opportunity to get judged and appreciated by our guests at every meal. We get a lot of positive feedback -- and where appropriate, negative feedback -- every day."

"The direct satisfaction of serving people food is what we're all in the business for," said Matt LaGrow, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and leader of the management team at the Beechwold cafe. "Receiving an award from the Clintonville business community is great. The management team is excited.

"I think pride is a huge part of what drives us and motivates us to take care of our guests and the community around us. Getting this award boosts a little of our confidence and our self-discipline to better ourselves and continue to have progress."

The Clintonville restaurant opened in 2007, about 21/2 years after the first Northstar began operating in the Short North.

"We love being in the Beechwold neighborhood," Darren Malhame said. "It was the second restaurant we built and we selected it because it's a very, very special place. It's a very old Columbus neighborhood with really strong family values. The reason why we felt comfortable growing ... is that our management culture, and in fact the culture of our entire operating team, is very mature.

"Right now, we've got eight really fantastic partners running the Beechwold restaurant, and it's really easy to be confident in opening a new restaurant."

At Northstar, Malhame went on to explain, every member of the management team has the opportunity to also become an investor in the business -- and the vast majority do so. That's why more than three dozen of the team members are referred to as "partners."

All who sign on as managers -- and some former patrons from fields such as banking and real estate have done so -- go through six months of training that involves working in every aspect of running the restaurants, Malhame said.

"At Northstar, we recognize that every decision we make affects the health of our community and the environment on a local and global scale," the chain's website states. "We make conscious decisions about the kinds of locations we choose, the way we build our restaurants, the carryout containers and operating supplies we purchase, and even the organic cotton T-shirts and hats that we wear in the cafes.

"More importantly, we're extremely careful about the ingredients we use. We choose locally grown, organic and artisan-produced foods, not only to protect the environment and to support producers whose values are aligned with ours, but also so that we are serving the most wholesome and delicious food we can."

"It's very glamorous on the outside, the restaurant business, but inside there are two realities," Darren Malhame said. "You have to like hard work and you have to love people."

Northstar Cafe will be among three honorees at the chamber's 2014 Celebrate Clintonville Awards Dinner and Silent Auction, set Feb. 28 at the Fawcett Center. Recent winners of the Business of the Year award include Donatos Pizza; Crimson Cup; Mozart's Cafe and Bakery; Beechwold Hardware; and Kemba Financial Credit Union.

The Business Person of the Year and the ThisWeek Booster Community Volunteer of the Year also will be honored during the event.

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