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Why Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl left Minnesota Monthly for MSP Communications

The acclaimed food writer sought a bigger support network and a chance to write deeper features.

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

Four years ago, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl rocked the food-writing world by jumping from City Pages to Minnesota Monthly. Last night, the multi-time Beard Award-winner did it again, jumping to MnMo’s bitter rival, MSP Communications.

The move has tremendous competitive consequences – consumption-obsessed glossies have struggled through tough times since the Great Recession, and Minnesota Monthly has arguably been hit worse than many. Its freelance budget has been zeroed out through June 30, and 10 monthly editorial pages have been slashed through that date. Grumdahl’s wine column was among them.

“We’ve been diminished,” says Grumdahl of MnMo. “I feel like MSP is growing, thinking about growing, and that’s sort of where I want to be, in a place going forward.”

Grumdahl – who split her time equally between MnMo and owner Greenspring’s grocery-store publication, Real Food – will write for Mpls.St.Paul and Delta Sky (the in-flight magazine MSP produces). She’ll continue to blog with MSP food editor Stephanie March, and social network about food and wine.

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MSP president Gary Johnson says she will also create digital content for companies such as General Mills (Pillsbury and Betty Crocker) and Optum Health. He says her writing will include more lifestyle stories, which may terrify foodies who worship her every comma.

Don’t fear, Grumdahl insists. MSP’s larger support structure will allow her to do more on MSP’s food blogs, while giving her time to stretch out on magazine features.

“The last thing I really enjoyed writing for Minnesota Monthly was ‘The Doughnut Gatherer’ under [former editor] Andy Putz,” she notes. “I haven’t had a month to work on something in I don’t know how long. That’s not [current editor] Joel [Hoekstra’s] fault – they don’t have the space for it and the staff for it. … Three and a half people have been putting out that magazine.”

Hoekstra acknowledges as much. “I’m just really pleased with the chance to work with her for so long. She’s been sought out by a lot of people, and there’s only so much opportunity at this company to grow,” he says.

Adds Grumdahl, “I have my voice, and I’m very good at having a voice, but [find] that, you need a certain amount of peacefulness and serenity. You can’t do that at 100,000 hours a day, you get addled and nutty.”

 (I hope she gets the time she deserves; custom publishing, as cash cow, has a certain unavoidable gravity when it’s part of your job description.)

Grumdahl joins former Pioneer Press editor Sue Campbell, features editor Heidi Raschke and Metro Mag editor Chris Clayton as recent MSP hires. While Mpls.St.Paul magazine is down about 100 pages from its 400-page 2007 peak, MSP has brought in enough “custom publishing” to attract talent.

Her new, larger team includes food star Andrew Zimmern and experienced editor Jayne Haugen Olson – “a huge part of my decision, a working mother who knows how to make it work on so many levels,” says Grumdahl, who has a 4- and 6-year-old with her husband, Nathan.

Zimmern, says Johnson, was key to recruiting Grumdahl. “It started with a conversation with Andrew, who mentioned he was a friend and would talk to her. She’s a fantastic talent, unusual in this market, and I’m excited to have her in this space. It was nothing real cunning.”

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Shockingly for someone who’s a franchise player, Grumdahl did not have a non-compete at MnMo, a company – like MSP – known for pressing them on far less mission-critical staffers. “They wanted me to sign one and I did not,” she says.

Does she have one at MSP? “Yes, I do,” she says. “I will not be going backwards [to MnMo], but we spent a long time on the non-compete so it doesn’t apply to forthcoming books” such as a “farcical novel” that’s about 90 percent done.

Still, she’s excited to keep testing the limits of food writing, which is “outgrowing its hole” as a back-of-the-book, second-tier news subject. “I feel like it can grow and grow – we eat three times a day, food as economy and food as health has not begun to be explored. I want to tell these stories and this is the environment to do that in.”