Chef Sean Mowell’s new Salt+Spruce Eatery is out to transform weeknight dinners. Mowell, who has cooked in Michelin-Starred restaurants, is now offering gourmet cuisine for takeout in Rapid City.
Salt+Spruce’s menu of salads, soups, side dishes, entrees and desserts incorporates French, Italian, Asian, Portugese, Spanish and American cuisines. Currently serving a variety of winter comfort foods, the menu is posted on saltspruceeatery.com. Orders must be placed by 5 p.m. a day before meal pickup. Salt+Spruce operates Monday through Thursday, with meal pickup from 3 to 5 p.m.
“I believe it fills a necessary hole for anyone these days since we’re all so busy and exhausted from work (and) blue screen time,” Mowell said. “I felt now was the best time to do it. With COVID-19, this might help ease some issues with not being able to go out to eat as much.”
Salt+Spruce opened in November. Mowell rents the kitchen at the Rapid City Masonic Temple, where customers also pick up their meals. Mowell buys ingredients and cooks all the food himself.
“We use the freshest ingredients available to produce delicious, affordable meals,” he said. “Our meals are pre-cooked and cooled quickly in order to retain freshness. All you have to do at home is reheat it.”
“It’s not a regular restaurant where you can order and food shows up at your door. I don’t have the manpower for that,” he said. “I think there’s been a lot of interest. A lot of people have visited my website but it takes a bit of a curve for people to understand what I can offer.”
Salt+Spruce is Mowell’s second takeout food business. He had operated one in California during his 12-plus year career in the restaurant industry. Born and raised in Spearfish, Mowell ultimately knew he wanted to return to the Black Hills and bring the styles of food he enjoys to South Dakota.
“Cooking has always been a passion of mine. If they would have had MasterChef Junior when I was a kid, I would have applied to be on it,” Mowell said.
He remembers being introduced to French food at Epcot during a family vacation.
“We had crème brulee and it blew my mind, even as a 7-year-old,” he said. “As a kid 8, 9 years old I was trying to make crème brulee. I think by the time I was 10, you could say I made restaurant-quality crème brulee.”
He started his professional restaurant career in his teens as a line cook at Tin Lizzie in Deadwood and at Papa Murphy’s, then moved to Colorado and California. Mowell graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
“I wanted to see what other places had to offer for the industry,” he said. “I decided that San Francisco had a really strong wine country and since wine is so heavily a part of cooking — pairing food with wine and cooking with wine — I felt I wanted to be somewhere that had a top-of-the-world type food scene where also if I wanted to pursue a wine career, I could make that transition pretty smoothly.”
“I worked for a lot of restaurants in San Francisco ranging from different cuisine types like Spanish and Italian and Michelin-starred restaurants that focused on high end or French,” he said. “My (food) background is heavily French so that’s a big influence, but working in San Francisco a lot of my colleagues were of Asian or Latin descent. A lot of my Salt+Spruce menu is geared toward things I ate in San Francisco or was taught to make that, over time, became a strength of mine.”
When Mowell and his wife, Ronalda, moved to the Black Hills in 2012, Mowell worked for awhile as the sous chef at The Farmhouse Bistro in Spearfish.
Mowell’s wife teaches at Knollwood Elementary School. She’s originally from Karachi, Pakistan, and the couple enjoys traveling internationally. Though they’re happy to be in South Dakota, the Mowells missed the variety of cuisine available in San Francisco.
“I couldn’t find some of that so I decided to make it. It became popular with my wife and friends and neighbors. A lot of my Salt+Spruce menu comes from what we enjoy as a family,” Mowell said.
Mowell’s dream for Salt+Spruce is to meet a need in the community while creating a work-life balance for himself and his family. The Mowells have a 2-year-old daughter and are expecting their second child in July.
“In the culinary industry, it’s hard to juggle family life and married life because you’re working weekends and nights. It’s long hours and the pay isn’t great so a lot of people tend to either quit the industry or quit family life. This was an opportunity to take that control back and to focus on God and family and my marriage and still have an opportunity to succeed in the culinary industry,” Mowell said.