2017-05-14 / Insight

Mother-son team behind Otter Lake restaurant

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 •

Denise Trudell (pictured) with her son Kris Zalewski own new Otter Lake diner and ice cream parlor Kozi’s Kitchen. Restaurant entrepreneurship has been in Trudell and Zalewski’s family for several generations, and with the opening of Kozi’s Kitchen, Trudell said her dreams are coming true.Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Denise Trudell (pictured) with her son Kris Zalewski own new Otter Lake diner and ice cream parlor Kozi’s Kitchen. Restaurant entrepreneurship has been in Trudell and Zalewski’s family for several generations, and with the opening of Kozi’s Kitchen, Trudell said her dreams are coming true.
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese
OTTER LAKE — Mother’s Day traditionally has been a day that families reflect on the positive impact a mother has when shaping the hearts and minds of her children, a time when the mother enjoys a well-earned respite from the demands of motherhood.

But for Denise Trudell, who co-owns new restaurant Kozi’s Kitchen in Otter Lake with her son Kris Zalewski, this Mother’s Day will mark the first of hopefully many as a new culinary entrepreneur.

Restaurant ownership has been in Trudell’s family for generations. By opening Kozi’s Kitchen, Trudell said she’s “following in her grandmother’s footsteps,” and with her new diner in Otter Lake, Trudell has ensured that legacy carries on — two of her six children work alongside her at the combination eatery and ice cream parlor.

Owning her own restaurant has been something Trudell has dreamed of for some time.

“I have been talking about it for years — it has been an exciting journey, a way for me to have my legacy live on, having six children and leaving something behind when I’m gone,” said Trudell. “It has been a very high stressful situation that has brought out the tantrums and frustration between us, but it has made us closer.”

That dream has been passed down from mother to mother, and now Trudell is sharing it with her children. Her passion for being a restaurateur, she said, is wholly a credit to her grandmother.

“To be a part of the community, talk to the locals and make food - that’s reminiscent of grandma’s house,” she said. “When I was a little girl my grandma had a diner and when I’d go there she would be behind the counter - she would do anything to put a smile on my face, and she knew just how with vanilla ice cream on a sugar cone.” Now, with Kozi’s open for business, it is Trudell, in true motherly fashion, doling out ice cream cones to local kids, each with a smile.

The sense of family at Kozi’s, Trudell said, is a direct result of the memories created at her grandmother’s diner, and it’s not a sense that Trudell, working side-by-side with her own children, will take for granted.

“My grandma was truly lucky to have all her children and grandchildren around her,” she said. “Those are some of my most precious memories — it was a diner of love and family and that’s what I want to recreate, and to share those memories with others.”

To help make that dream a reality, her son Zalewski is manning the kitchen, a position with which he is familiar.

“The kitchen is a high pressure, stress intense environment but you just have to let loose steam and let it go. You just have to yell sometimes,” said Zalewski.

Zalewski is the mastermind behind many of the menu choices at Kozi’s Kitchen, devising Americana staples with a creative culinary twist. Kozi’s Kitchen may seem to provide typical all-American fare, but Zalewski’s formal training provides his dishes with an uncommon flair.

“(Kozi’s) is a relaxed environment and I’m able to experiment with food, try new recipes and open up people’s palettes to new things — it’s a lot smaller and personal so I can express myself in my food,” said Zalewski. “There is no door to my kitchen from the dining room so my guests can see and talk to me — to know that there is a person cooking your food with care and passion.”

Zalewski said that that personal touch makes all the difference when it comes to the success of a small business like Kozi’s. “With automation and technology, it is easy to forget that there is another person behind everything,” he said. “They have a life, a living breathing person, and we take that for granted.”

Now that Kozi’s Kitchen has opened its doors, the stress of preparation has given way to the rush of seeing a dream made real.

“Thinking about it now bring so much joy to my heart to think it is really happening,” Trudell said. “I’m making my dream come true — it really is happening and I’m going to make it.”

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