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City Pages just lost its Sugar Mama

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl told her bosses today that she was taking her food column to Minnesota Monthly, starting in January. Dara is not only one of the few first-name divas of the local journalism scene, she is a certifiable brand that pulls in big advertising bucks as local chefs court her legions of drooling foodies. CP's overlords, Village Voice Media, has largely whistled as names like Steve Perry, Britt Robson, Beth Hawkins and G.R. Anderson Jr. fled earlier this year, saving money on each of their replacements (at least, the ones who were replaced).

The exit of a restaurant writer who picks up James Beard awards like Bill Belichick and Super Bowl rings will nail VVM in the pocketbook. Restaurants were City Pages' most lucrative ad category, sources say.

"It makes me sad to the bottom of my toes," Grumdahl says. "I've been a City Pages writer since I was a whippersnapper; it was my first job out of Carleton. That said, I couldn't be more excited about Minnesota Monthly. I'm interested in longer-form things, I have a couple of books in the works, and Minnesota Monthly is interested in having national platform and voice. You'll see in six months, a kind of explosion."

Grumdahl was complimentary about her former employers, praising publisher Mark Bartel—"a friend"—and soon-to-be-former editor Kevin Hoffman. "I never had a problem with him," she says of Hoffman, who has had a few writers screaming for the exits. "He's a gung-ho writer and a nice guy. It's not about that."

Still, Grumdahl's exit provides a cautionary tale for the VVM way of doing business. Their style is to have writers crank out tons of copy, but veterans with a following can leave rather than spit out an increasing number of widgets.

"You know who should be afraid?" Grumdahl asks rhetorically. "Mpls.St.Paul."

She notes MSP's restaurant rock star Andrew Zimmern "started all this, but he's pulling back; he was so involved in what they did. There will be a real vacuum in coverage." (Longtime MSP editor and ex-alt-weekly guy Adam Platt helms the restaurant coverage.)

There apparently was no bidding war; Grumdahl says she's never talked to MSP (or the Strib), about a job.

For Minnesota Monthly, Grumdahl's hiring is a coup for a magazine aiming to get younger and feistier. But it's been kind of a go-go month at the venerable monthlies; Dara's hire follows Mpls.St.Paul's embrace of Brian Lambert, who retains his alt-weekly spunk despite his AARP card. (Disclaimer: I freelance for MSP and Minnesota Monthly, and am two years away from early-bird dining discounts.)

In a way, there's a natural order asserting itself. CP, no matter what you think of its 2007 metamorphosis, now has more 20-somethings with regular bylines; before the Village Voice virus wiped out the old crew, I don't think there was a staff writer under 32. Meanwhile, the more established monthlies suddenly look more relevant to an older group of hipsters grousing that CP ain't what it used to be. (The Rake, an upstart designed to be the next-gen alt-weekly, suffers because it pays less.)

Minnesota Monthly editor Andy Putz — the first editor I've had who makes me feel embarrassingly old — has snatched up CP stalwarts Beth Hawkins and Michael Tortorello on a freelance basis. Of course, the monthlies' fundamental collagen-leather-Lexus paradigm hasn't changed, but the game is always to get great stories and good paydays into the mix (sort of like Playboy's articles). Success comes in phases, but right now, interesting monthly journalism appears on the ascendency.

Grumdahl's new responsibilities aren't clearly defined, but she broke them down as "60/40" — 60 percent for the magazine, doing all their restaurant coverage, plus a handful of features and cover pages. The other 40 percent of her time will be spent blogging and editing Minnesota Monthly's Real Foods magazine.

She gives her new employer a rave review. "I am really excited about what I'm going to do there. Texas Monthly had its time; Minnesota Monthly will have its time."

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Comments (3)

"Collagen-leather-Lexus" made me spit coffee on my keyboard.

I hope in a good way.

Wow. My last reason for picking up CP is gone.
As the Strib has apparently abandoned the notion of serious restaurant commentary in favor of a weekly press release digest, we're now left with monthlies to keep us up to date?
Let's hope Dara's blog fills in the gaps (and I do enjoy Zimmern's as well).

Oh, well, another day in the life of Tiny Town...