Although Ramon Ruiz emigrated from the warmth of Mexico to San Francisco, Calif., he’s planted his roots in the Minnesota cold; and after years of dreaming about owning an Italian eatery, those dreams are coming to life in our local suburbs.
“I started [cooking] in California, outside of San Francisco, making pizzas … At the time I was so young, and I had no experience in Italian food,” Ruiz says. After a 10-month stint spinning pizzas, Ruiz was sent to White Bear Lake, Minn., for two weeks to train for a Two Guys From Italy franchise.
“My boss had asked if I was ready to go back to California, and I decided to stay [in Minnesota] because I had never seen snow in my life,” Ruiz says, laughing. “I told him, ‘If I don’t make it here, I’ll go back to California.’” That was in 1981; 40 years later, Ruiz and his family of six are still in Minnesota.
At the time, Ruiz wasn’t fluent in English, since the Spanish language was so prevalent in California. With little English language skills, he worked as a server and busser for over four years, and says he became proficient in English by serving. He worked with Two Guys From Italy until 1993, when he was hired on as a chef at St. Paul’s Bucca di Beppo; he was promoted to head chef four years later.
“I did a lot of training with [Bucca di Beppo] in Chicago, Orlando and California,” Ruiz says. “I got a lot of experience working with Bucca, but my dream was to open my own restaurant.”
Ruiz and his wife Lori—who met at Bucca di Beppo—made their restaurant dreams come true in 2011, after opening the first Andiamo Italian Eatery in Eagan, Minn. Although Ruiz didn’t have personal funding for the restaurant operations, once he saw the leasing sign on that location, he and Lori decided to take a leap of faith, preparing the new restaurant while still cooking at Bucca.
“People were telling me that I wasn’t going to make it,” Ruiz says. “I said, ‘Keep coming back. I’ll still be here.’”
Ruiz brought on his wife, his son Enrique and family friend Tommy Krouse to manage Andiamo—creating the family-friendly atmosphere it’s known for. And nearly a decade after opening Andiamo in Eagan, Ruiz opened the second location this past October in Woodbury, in the space where Sole Mio once served Italian cuisine.
“My wife wasn’t sure that we should open [during COVID-19], but [our team] got together and we could make it work,” Ruiz says. “We had to lay off employees in Eagan, and so we were happy to bring them back … Our employees are like family.”
Though many restaurants didn’t make it through COVID-19, Ruiz says take-out meals and the support from both communities saved Andiamo.
“When the pandemic began in March, I didn’t know what to do … There was a huge response from [the Eagan] community,” Ruiz says. “The regulars would get weekend meals and send their folks to [Andiamo].”
Though Ruiz says it’s never the right time to open a restaurant, it was easier this time around due to the 50 percent capacity requirements and because the kitchen and décor were already centered around the familial feel. Plus, Woodbury was eagerly awaiting the opening. “It’s been a hugely great response,” Ruiz says. With raving reviews and finished plates, it’s safe to say Andiamo is making an impact in the community; but Ruiz wants to do more.
“I’m trying to get more involved in the community, I’m a big believer in [the Woodbury government] and our community … I like to stay connected and help where I can,” he says.
“Our goal is to be our community’s kitchen table,” Ruiz says. “And that means when you visit us, it’s like stepping into our home.”
Ruiz knows the Italian classics—chicken parmigiana, chicken Marsala, spaghetti and meatballs—will always be top sellers, but his favorites (and his creations!) are top tier. From his own plates and tropical favorites, here are chef Ruiz’s top three picks.
Scallops with crab and pea risotto: Taking the nontraditional route, Ruiz pairs scallops with crab and pea risotto, pancetta, chives, fried leeks and lemon butter. “[The dish] is my invention and one of my signatures,” he says.
Grilled mahi mahi: “We like to call [this dish] tropical salsa,” Ruiz says. The mahi mahi is topped with coconut risotto, roasted red pepper curry and pineapple salsa, bringing a taste of the tropics to your plate.
Cioppino: Originating from San Francisco, cioppino is a fish stew, which Ruiz serves with risotto Milanese, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and a side crostini.
“The number one meal is spaghetti and meatballs,” Ruiz says, with a laugh. The traditional Italian meals are a hit at Andiamo, and Ruiz sure knows how to serve the plates up.
Spaghetti and meatballs: A large plate of traditional spaghetti with house-made marinara, topped with three large meatballs and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Lasagna Bolognese: Chef Ruiz’s lasagna Bolognese adds Italian sausage and ground chuck to their traditional three cheese and marinara blend lasagna.
Chicken Parmigiana: One of Andiamo’s best sellers, the chicken parmigiana is topped with a tasty house-made bruschetta mix, house-made marinara, mozzarella and a mix of roasted vegetables.
Margherita pizza: Though Andiamo may be known for the pasta entrées, Italian pizza is a hit, too. The classic margherita pizza is topped with fresh mozzarella, basil and house-made tomato sauce.