FAIRMONT– Natanael and Leah Moreno are the faces behind a new pop-up style restaurant in Fairmont. MINGA will serve South American and Scandinavian-inspired comfort food. They will collaborate with Fairmont Brewing Company for their first event, a summer beer brunch on July 3.
The Morenos moved to Fairmont in 2019, despite both graduating from Fairmont High School.
Natanael said he has always been interested in food. Growing up in Chile, he said food was very important to his family. His maternal grandfather was a butcher and his mother told him that the family never had to get anything from the market, but grew their own produce and made their own butter.
“Food was central” Natanael said.
After moving to Fairmont in 2005, Natanael started packing her own lunch to take to school. Once in college, he continued to cook.
“When I met him in college, that’s what he was known for. He loved to entertain.” said Lea.
Natanael said he enjoys cooking meals as a way to both reconnect with his childhood and connect with the people he serves. In college, Leah and Natanael had the opportunity to meet people from all over.
“We were introduced to so many different types of food. Colombian, Peruvian, Brazilian cuisine, but also Malaysian and Filipino. It also sparked our interest. Every time you make new friends and get together, there has new dishes”, said Lea.
After the couple got married, they continued to cook different dishes together, although neither of them planned to necessarily start their own business.
“We’re both dreamers and we’ve floated the idea, but it wasn’t until recently that we thought we could give it a try.” said Lea.
She said after talking to Joe and Lea Reimann, owners of Fairmont Brewing Company, and looking at a restaurant’s pop-up style model, they realized they could start slow and in a way that fits their lifestyle with three young children.
“It always gives the community something new, exciting and delicious,” said Lea.
MINGA refers to the Andean practice of community work for the common good. Leah said whenever someone in the community had a project, everyone came together to make it happen. Afterwards, there is a feast. Leah had participated in a minga while studying in Ecuador and Natanael had grown up in Chile.
“When we were thinking about names it popped up and we didn’t even realize the connection and scope of the concept. It has a lot to do with the values we share of community, collaboration and also abundance” , said Lea.
When the Morenos shared the name and its meaning with the Reimanns, Joe pointed out that the concept is similar to barn-raising, which is common among European settlers.
“Our cuisine is a fusion of Scandinavian and South American cuisine, because our house is a fusion of that”, said Leah laughing.
Although there are other influences, these are the main ones. The first pop-up on Sunday will feature a mix of the two.
“There will be a pasture table with assorted cheeses and homemade bread from Amboy Cottage Cafe. We will feature local makers and farmers. There will be a Simply Homemade Black Raspberry Jam that she harvests within a five-mile radius of her house. There will be local honey from Madelia, Moody Bees Honey,” said Lea.
It is important for Morenos to source as much as possible locally. The main dish, arepas, is a corn-based pasta with meat. Theirs will be Venezuelan-style and feature pork carnitas from Blue Dirt Farms at Blue Earth. There will also be Peruvian sauce.
“And then there’s the beer, of course,” Natanael said.
Each game will be varied with a Fairmont Brewing Company drink. Along with the pasture table, there will be a porter cold brew latte with lavender syrup. For the main course, you have the choice between a beer-mosa or the lime pineapple cheleda.
“Both are really citrusy and go really well with pork,” said Lea.
There will also be a surprise drink from Fairmont Brewing Company to finish the meal.
Natanael is very happy to be able to introduce South American cuisine and expose people to a different variety of food. Leah is excited to work with different vendors and partner.
“I feel a lot of pride in southern Minnesota right now. Really cool things are happening. We start with a collaboration and we don’t want that to go away. I hope we can continue to explore new ways to partner with other people,” said Lea.
As for next steps, they’re in no rush to have their own brick-and-mortar place, but are excited to hear community feedback to help them adapt and grow.
They are exploring a partnership with Fairmont Brewing Company as they both align on a mission to create a product and a place that encourages unity and community.
For the first Sunday event, all 32 tickets are sold out for the 1:30 p.m. spot, but there are still a few tables left for the 11 a.m. spot.
In order to find out when another event is taking place, the Morenos suggest people check the Fairmont Brewing Company social media pages or the MINGA social media pages.