Hot Chef



Give a big hello to Nicci Sylvester, owner of Tonic, a hot new restaurant that serves a variety of juices, smoothies and local food, like sandwiches, pyrohis (a Ukrainian family recipe), soups and more. Born and raised in Blaine, Minnesota, Nicci spent her childhood years between her family’s and grandparents’ homes.

She remembers her mom preparing brunch every Sunday, as if it was someone’s birthday; the whole neighborhood would be over! She loved being in charge of all the prep work—laying out dishes, decorating and making sure there were no crumbs on the table.

That started her career in the food service industry. Starting a restaurant is a messy business, and it’s not always quite as simple as sweeping crumbs off the kitchen table. When Tonic first opened, it took Nicci and her employees some practice to get used to maneuvering around the small kitchen. In an attempt to open up the oven door, bacon grease spewed everywhere. The kitchen became a slip and slide of grease, as Nicci slipped to the ground, followed by one employee after another. From a humble pileup of disgruntled workers, Tonic has grown to a popular restaurant with a menu to satisfy anyone’s tastes. Nicci’s inspiration to create Tonic came from being an annoying, front-of-the-house (restaurant slang for the dining area, not the kitchen) manager who would pester the chef with endless questions, comments, thoughts and ideas. Some chefs get tired of all that “telling them what to do,” so one chef told her it was time to do her own thing. She loved juicing, so the business plan basically wrote itself. A cool, funky, recycled restaurant emerged in Rochester, where fruit becomes art and the plates are bought from the little old lady down the street for 99 cents. Tonic’s kitchen is open to the restaurant, so you can watch the cooks prepare your food, and it’s green. Because in those harsh Minnesota winters, who doesn’t crave the color green? Although her cooking style is Ukrainian- American-Fresh-Farm-to-Plate, Nicci did say that if she were on death row and could pick her last supper, it would be pizza, and she’s thought a lot about it. “Pizza with green olives and onions and Meryll’s Merribees mushrooms, butter crust, and maybe I’d dip it in garlic butter too,” she says. “The last one just has to be fat and happy. Oh! And vodka. I’m Ukrainian after all.” Curiously, I asked about vodka in her juices. “I do it all the time at home! It’s the whole champagne-orange juice philosophy,” she states. A hot chef with good taste.

Dawn Sanborn is a foodie by heart, and agrees with Nicci’s idea that vodka is a good ingredient to add to her juices.