By Judith Salkin
Owning and running one successful restaurant is more than enough for most people. For Mindy Reed, stopping at one wasn’t an option. She is the sole owner of two popular Palm Springs eateries, less than a block apart – Zin American Bistro and Alicante Spanish Mediterranean Cuisine.
For Reed, a woman who raised two sons as a single mother, opening Zin was an idea of taking a risk. “It’s my personality,” she said this past weekend sitting in the restaurant where she’s been working as the bartender for the evening. “I had to do it.”
When she and Chef Nicolas Klontz opened Zin in 2005, Reed took out a second mortgage on her house, focusing on the positive, but certainly not ignoring the negative. When Klontz had a heart attack just days before the Memorial Day Weekend opening, “I had to open,” she said. “I had no money, everything was going out. If I didn’t open, I don’t know what would have happened.”
As it turned out, her business plan to open in summer to give locals a chance to find Zin and support it before the tourists returned, worked out perfectly.
In turning Zin into a destination for locals, she built a strong customer base that has supported her through the years.
It’s not surprising that Reed ended up as a successful restaurant owner. She grew up being home schooled by her parents and working in their vegan/vegetarian restaurant in the small town of Dowagiac, Mich.
“I should have known I’d be a business owner,” she says. “When I was a little kid my grandparents owned a bait shop and I LOVED to play in the bait bins and dig worms.”
As a teen, she ended up in Alabama where she “married a California boy and moved here,” she said. Actually, it was Joshua Tree, where her two sons, Benjamin and Solomon were born “at home with the aid of a midwife,” she says. That might have been a good indicator of Reed’s approach to life in knowing and evaluating risks and then allowing life to take her where it will.
“When I lived in Alabama I lived with a midwife for about six months and I thought I was young, it was natural, why not,” she says throwing up her hands.
After working as a cocktail waitress and running the front of house at other Palm Springs restaurants, Reed tried to open a small sandwich shop, “but the landlord wouldn’t let me lease the space because he said I didn’t have a track record,” she says.
It was Reed who convinced Klontz, her partner in life and business, to open Zin. She was the one who worked the deal with the owner of the previous restaurant and came up with the money to open the restaurant. It was Klontz who convinced her to be Zin’s baker, and create the restaurant’s signature dessert in her Chevre cheesecake.
Just five years later, she and Klontz opened Zini Cafe Mediterrano, again on Memorial Day Weekend. In early July they learned he had cancer and he died less than a week later, leaving her to run two businesses.
“I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had the restaurants,” she says of the six months following his death. “I couldn’t focus on myself; I had to focus on the business. Zin was pretty much running itself and I had to make sure Zini would succeed.”
While some thought Reed was in over her head and would fail, “I proved them all wrong,” she says proudly.
Her success has influenced one of her sons, Solomon, who is a chef at Tinto in Palm Springs. “Ben can’t stand the restaurant business,” she says with a laugh. “He’s rather do anything but work in the restaurant.”
Earlier this year, again on Memorial Day Weekend, Reed re-launched Zini as Alicante Spanish Mediterranean Cuisine and has taken it to the next level. Again, the community has supported her turning Alicante into a popular place for locals and visitors to the area.
Reed is a valued member of the community. An avid bicyclist, she participates in long distance rides that support HIV/AIDS causes like the AIDS LifeCycle Ride, from San Francisco to LA to raise money for the LA Gay and Lesbian and San Francisco AIDS Foundation; hosting fund-raisers at the restaurants; Dining Out For Life; and Desert AIDS Project’s Dining Out For Life; along with events like Palm Springs Food and Wine Festival, Palm Springs Desert Resorts Restaurant Week, Kids with MIA, the Pendleton Foundation’s Chef Auction and the Palm Springs High School Arts Institute.
After nearly a decade, Reed is ready to take the next step. She would like to find someone to manage the restaurants. “I really want to take some time to learn more about the back of house and what goes on in the kitchen,” she says. “I wouldn’t call myself a pastry chef, but I would like to have the time to get back to baking. I love it and I don’t have the time for it because I’m so involved in the routine of the day to day stuff. I think that that’s why people burn out, even when they’re doing something they love. And I don’t want to burn out; I love this business and I want to stay in love with it.”
Photos by Gregg Felsen