Deaf chef returns home to open restaurant
FARNHAMVILLE — Going to town with grandpa to visit the local Friendly Tavern is something Kendall Kail has fond memories of as a child.
Kail grew up on a farm outside Farnhamville. And getting to observe his grandpa’s interactions with the locals was quite a thrill.
“He always came to town every day to the Friendly Tavern at noon and at 5 o’clock for a beer,” Kail recalled of his grandpa. “And sometimes he would take me with him.”
Kail was born deaf. And although he couldn’t hear the conversations happening around him, he enjoyed seeing his grandpa make connections with others. And of course, he made some, too.
“I remember grandpa talking to everyone,” Kail said.
He described his grandpa as a “foodie.”
“He was not afraid to try anything,” Kail said. “He was always willing to try new things.”
So when Kail opened his restaurant in Farnhamville in March, the name that customers saw on the sign outside of the building was “Rudy’s.” Kail’s grandpa was named Rudolph aka Rudy. He passed away in the 1996.
The lettering on the sign is his grandpa’s actual signature.
Although the restaurant bears Rudy’s name, it was another grandparent that inspired Kail to cook in the first place — his grandmother Olga Hansen.
Kail started his educational journey in Fort Dodge at a special program for the deaf. Later, he attended the Iowa School for the Deaf from grade 5 through 10.
He graduated from Prairie Valley High School in 1991.
In the years that followed, Kail held a number of odd jobs including owning a T-shirt company. But none of those jobs felt like his true calling.
“At one point in his life, he wondered what he should do,” said Kail’s mother, Rita, who translates for him. “His grandma encouraged him to pursue cooking. She knew he liked to cook.”
Hansen herself was a school cook for 19 years for Cedar Valley community schools before it merged with consolidated with Prairie of Gowrie in1993 to form Prairie Valley.
Kail graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2011. His grandma passed away in 2012.
“In going through school, he worked with other really great chefs and had to prove he could do it,” Rita said. “They are very strict and that’s how they gain their skills.”
Kail landed one of his first chef jobs at Ward 6 in St. Paul in 2013. Later he was chef at Bar Brigade in St. Paul.
“He was the only deaf chef in St. Paul,” Rita said.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, many bars and restaurants closed down. The Bar Brigade was one of them.
“Because of COVID, 65 percent of restaurants/bars in the St. Paul area closed,” Kail said.
With the sudden loss of income, Kail decided it was time to move home. He arrived back in Farnhamville in July 2020.
By the spring he was ready to open Rudy’s and share his culinary skills with his hometown. The restaurant is located at 230 Garfield Ave. The building is owned by Farnhamville Betterment Building Committee.
“People are following him,” Rita said. “They have heard about his skills. They know he brings different things and are willing to try them.”
Rudy’s is the only restaurant in the town of less than 500 people, which Kail sees as a challenge.
“Small town, no competition,” he said. “Competition is good for every business. Learning what people like around here, it’s different than in the city. Getting people to try new things.”
Ribeye steak, Rudy’s Bone-in Pork Chop and Rudy’s Pub Burger are some of the most popular items on the menu. The Rudy’s burger is a 6 oz burger with American cheese, bacon, carmelized onions, dijonnaise and pickles. The pork chop is smoked and grilled with apple demi-glace.
A variety of salads, sandwiches and pizzas are served. Rudy’s also has a full bar with muliple beers on tap.
Kail said he likes to change the menu throughout the year to match seasonal tastes.
“Being creative and being able to make new things” is what he loves about being a chef.
Kail orders his beef from a farm in Wisconsin that he became familiar with from his past work.
“He orders the meat and it’s flown in from Wisconsin,” Rita said. “He would visit the farm so he knows how they are raised it and the quality of the meat. And that’s very important for him. So he cuts his ribeyes and cuts his own pork chops.”
The restaurant employs about 10 part-time workers. Rita helps where needed.
“I am his ears,” she said. “I mingle amongst the customers and share with him what people are saying.”
In July, Kail plans to meet with his high school graduating class at Rudy’s for their reunion.
Rudy’s is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Kitchen opens at 5 p.m.