Kim Bartmann: Blunt Visionary

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Kim Bartmann (Photo by Sarah Whiting)

As a kindergarten student in a diverse North Hollywood classroom in the 1960s, Kim Bartmann got the message that equality was there for the taking. Growing up with a mother who let her know “I could do whatever I wanted to do in life,”

Bartmann says she has “never accepted any restrictions.”

However, living in a country where “the number two person wants to put me in jail and take my children away — that’s pretty real,” says Bartmann, of the current U.S. Vice President. Bartmann is in a lesbian partnership, raising two children adopted from the foster care system. “I’m an optimistic person, but cultural change happens effectively only through a change in consciousness. The #MeToo movement definitely has put people on notice and made them more aware. But backlash is alive and well.”

As owner or shareholder in nearly a dozen Twin Cities restaurants — most of them her own creation, such as Red Stag, Tiny Diner, Pat’s Tap, and The Book Club — Bartmann says, “I’ve been able to construct this lovely bubble in which I can be myself, and those who work here can.”

She nods in the direction of an early morning group of employees assembled at the bar of her Barbette restaurant. “There’s a row of them right there, all with very different stories. They work in this industry for a reason.”

Diversity Is Not Insulation

The restaurant industry might accept variety in its personnel, but sexism flourishes. There is high stress, especially experienced by women, such as, “Getting pinched in the ass, getting treated with disrespect by pretty much everyone, being left out of conversations, being put down assertively.”

Working with those outside the industry is no better. “Not to be sexist myself — there are great plumbers and electricians out there — but whether I’m opening my second restaurant or my tenth, sexism still happens.”

Asked if she feels optimistic about where women’s leadership is going today, Bartmann offers an emphatic no. “I’m old, so I’m starting to have more of a historical perspective. The progressive movements fracturing into various identity movements resulted in backlash, especially against women.

“The liberal left never should have strayed from Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition,” she says, frankly. “Identity politics have hurt the progressive movement mightily in my opinion.”

Similarly, whether you embrace the term ‘feminism’ or not, she says, “Feminism in a narrow lane, as opposed to being thought of as a broader movement, isn’t productive.”

The cultural assertion of extreme gender norms, she adds, “is winning.” The gender-typed concept of “princesses and trucks, boys don’t cry, and all that shit” — has imprinted her children, even though it is not the message Bartmann and her partner support in their parenting.

“It’s killing me,” she says with a laugh.

Big and Small Changes

Blunt, visionary, realist Bartmann has, however, been instrumental in effecting change. She is president of the national Women’s Chef and Restauranteurs group, which will bring its annual conference to the Twin Cities at the end of April for the second year in a row. The mission is to empower, inspire, educate, and promote women in the industry.

She says it is creativity and collaboration, as part of an engaged community, connected with a common purpose, that makes a difference.

One of her next ventures is a healthy power lunch delivery option, with Lachelle Cunningham and Jenny Breen.

Bartmann has been a leader in sustainability and green design. Her Red Stag restaurant, built in 2007, was the first LEED-CI restaurant in Minnesota — setting an industry benchmark for green design and construction of a commercial interior. In an industry that spends a significant portion of its expenses on energy and water, Red Stag water use was cut by about 70 percent and energy use cut almost in half. It was the first facility in the country entirely lit by LED lights. Red Stag was part of a pilot team of restaurants that pioneered commercial waste composting with Eureka! Recycling.

It was only a few years ago that you had to go to the suburbs to find less toxic caulk. “Now it is hard to find anything but that,” Bartmann says. “It can happen in that short of a time. It’s about big and small efforts.”

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