Roseville: A Rand McNally “Best Small Town” Finalist

American travelers love their small towns. The travel guide producer Rand McNally knows this well. In 2011, the publisher partnered with USA Today to find the Best Small Towns in America. The annual survey has grown more popular every year; in fact more than twice as many people voted in this year’s competition as last year. Recently, the finalists were named in six categories, and Roseville made the list but not in a category that I would first expect: Best for Food. Finalists in this category also included Walla Walla, Wash., San Mateo, Calif., Charlottesville, Va., and Galesburg, Ill.

The Chianti Grill

In making its decision for finalists, Rand McNally said, “For supporters of Galesburg and Roseville, it was all about the number of locally owned establishments serving satisfying, down-home meals. A common thread throughout, though, was an emphasis on dishes made with fresh, local produce.” On Tuesday, Rand McNally made their final decisions and unfortunately Roseville didn’t win, but it’s just as much a victory to get the national recognition as a finalist.

I recently spoke with Julie Wearn, CEO of the Roseville Visitors Association about the Rand McNally nomination as an American Best Small Town, some of her favorite local dining spots, and what makes Roseville such a special small town. Also, check out the fun video that her office helped produce to push the city through the finish line in the Rand McNally voting. Very fun. Congratulations Roseville on making it as a finalist.

From what I’ve read, there were more than 1,100 cities nominated for the award. Do you know how Roseville might have captured Rand McNally’s attention? Did travelers submit the nominations?

We captured their attention by submitting our city information and photos in order to be considered for the contest. Then it was all hands on deck spreading the word to city residents to get online and vote for their favorite restaurant in town. The contest was set up so you could enter and vote once a day. I think people may have stopped taking my calls as my first question was “Did you vote today?” I called my son and upon seeing caller ID he answered, “Yes mom I voted!”

Is this the first time that Roseville has been nominated for America’s Best Small Towns?

Yes. We could enter in any of the six categories but had the most votes cast for Best Food.

Some visitors might only know Roseville for its larger, more ubiquitous chain restaurants, what might they be missing when it comes to culinary offerings?

Good question Joel. We actually have 14 local and nationally known restaurant concepts that were started here in Minnesota. They are Key’s Café, Mavericks, Chianti Grill, Granite City, Famous Dave’s (OK that was Wisconsin, but first restaurant in Roseville), Grumpy’ s, Joe Senser’s, La Casita, D’Amico & Sons, Davanni’s, Good Earth, Leeann Chins, India Palace and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Granite City Food & Brewery is derived its name from its hometown nickname, as in the late 1800’s St. Cloud was one of the great granite capitals of the world. Barbara Hunn opened the first Key’s Café and Bakery in 1973 and today operates nine and her entire family is involved! Axel’s was born of a vision a Twin Cities couple had of building a traditional Midwest casual supper club style steak house where the meal served to you sent you home stuffed! Former Minnesota Viking football star Joe Senser has created Joe Senser’s Sports Theatre, a restaurant concept that is consistently rated by Sports Illustrated and ESPN as one of the “premier sports bars in the country.”

Bruschetta from The Flame

Do you have a favorite dish you like to order in Roseville?

I have to say that I was blown away when I first had The Flame’s bruschetta—it is a secret recipe that they do not give out. If I’m at Axel’s it’s the Bull Bites or the walleye and you can’t beat the breakfast at Key’s.

What makes Roseville such a special small town?

The people that live here are passionate about their city and we are a Living Smarter community with residents who believe Roseville is not just a place to live where everything is close; it is a community that boasts a “sustainable lifestyle.” I bet you did not know that the Guidant John Rose MN OVAL is one of only four Olympic-sized speed skating facilities in the country, and that six time Olympian Bonnie Blair has skated at the OVAL! From a hospitality point of view we truly are “perfectly positioned” in the Saint Paul-Minneapolis area with a variety of hotels for every price range and easy on off highway access.

All that said, we found out on Tuesday that we did NOT win Best Food. The overall score was heavily weighted on social media engagement in addition to votes, video and essay. San Mateo kicked it in and had an impressive numbers section in their essay, which neatly summed up their social media engagement that included a dedicated Best Food Facebook page and a daily Mystery Meal contest…all good things to know, and possibly implement, for next year! We did get a nod for creativity!

Axel’s Bull Bites, left, and a pie from Key’s