ST. JOSEPH – Two St. Joseph businesses have been honored on the national stage.

Midwest Living Magazine has selected Krewe Restaurant as “Best New Restaurant” in their annual “Best of the Midwest Winners” competition.

Meanwhile, Milk and Honey Ciders is a finalist in this year’s USA Today’s Readers' Choice Awards contest in the “Best Cidery” category.

Mateo Mackbee, owner and lead chef at Krewe, says he was stunned when the editors of Midwest Living Magazine reached out with the news that his downtown St. Joseph restaurant, serving up New Orleans-inspired cuisine, took top honors in the new restaurant category.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Mackbee laughed. “You know, given the circumstances of a pandemic and the fact that we’re bringing a whole different style of cuisine and restaurant to a relatively small area. We had no idea what was going to happen, and then this happened. It’s pretty humbling and we feel pretty blessed.”

Mackbee says he has “absolutely no idea” how Krewe landed on Midwest Living’s radar.

“I was so surprised when they reached out to us,” he said. “They called and said, ‘this is what we plan on doing and what we’ve named you,’ and both (Krewe co-owner Erin Lucas) and I were in complete shock.”

Krewe opened at the end of last May, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding. Mackbee says business has been good, and he’s grateful for the community’s continued support as they figure out how to thrive amid a public health crisis.

“We closed our doors for about 25 days to just try to figure out how to stay ahead of everything that’s going to happen in the next six months,” he explained. “We had no idea what (100 percent capacity) looked like, because we opened at a time when we were only allowed to have 50 percent. So, we shut down for a bit and reorganized things and labor to make sure we can get to the other side of this.”

Mackbee says the honor belongs to more than just Krewe.

“Everyone in this community has been so awesome,” he said. “So, hopefully it’s exciting for them as well – something they can be proud of.”

Kirstin Westby, general manager of Milk and Honey Ciders, says they learned about USA Today’s Readers Choice competition through a “completely random email.”

“(USA Today) told us it was coming up, and asked for a photo,” Westby said. “We were super surprised, especially after we read through their list of the top 20 cideries around the nation. It was just this great, humbling reminder that there are a lot of people out in the world who know about us – not just our local communities here in Minnesota.”

But how exactly did Milk and Honey Ciders, located in rural St. Joe, land on USA Today’s list of finalists to begin with?

“I have no idea,” she admitted. “We have a pocket of distribution in New England, but otherwise we’re only in Minnesota, and not even statewide. So, when we get contacted by people and publications across the country, I’m always really surprised.”

Finalists in every category of the USA Today’s Readers’ Choice awards are carefully curated by a panel of experts, writers and editors. Once those lists are created, it’s up to readers to vote for their favorites to determine the winner.

“With our excitement, we obviously shared it to our social media page to just let folks know and try to get the votes out,” Westby said. “Then, in real time, we watched our ranking climb from 17th to fourth or fifth after 12 hours.”

As of Thursday evening, Milk and Honey Ciders was sitting comfortably in third place.

“We’re really, really excited,” Westby said.

Polls for the Readers’ Choice contest will be closed on Tuesday, March 16 at noon, and Westby says readers can vote more than once.

Krewe Restaurant and Milk and Honey Ciders are operating with reduced hours and capacity limits due to COVID-19. Visit Krewe’s Facebook Page and Milk and Honey’s Facebook page to learn more.

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