Student Stories

Desta Klein

Tasting Success: Desta Klein '99

Meritage, downtown Saint Paul’s renowned French brasserie and oyster bar, exudes the essence of France, from inside the charming dining room to the quaint sidewalk patio. Here, customers have the sense of sitting at a Paris street café, enjoying a glass of wine and a delicious meal while being attended to by friendly and knowledgeable servers. 

That’s just how the restaurant’s owners, Desta Collier Klein ’99 and her husband, executive chef Russell Klein, like it.

Having been around the food-service industry her whole life, Desta is intentional in creating what she calls a haven for food-service professionals at Meritage, taking pride in the quality of the staff. 

“We’ve created a place where there is honor in working in the service industry,” she says. 

“I believe education gives you perspective, and my education at Hamline certainly gave me that, along with the ability to think critically,” Desta said. “Being a part of that academic community was amazing, considering I was a non-traditional, first-generation student from a very blue-collar world,” she says.

Desta earned an associate’s degree at Anoka Ramsey Community College before transferring to Hamline as a Presidential Scholar. After graduating with a degree in psychology, she worked in the university’s undergraduate admission office for five years while also working toward an MFA degree. She left the university to return to her roots in food service, taking with her the desire to make an impact by creating a workplace that gives its employees a sense of purpose.

While Russell creates the food, Desta runs the business side of the restaurant. She reluctantly claims the title of CEO, which is appropriate, considering she’s managing a $3-million-a-year operation. 

The couple opened Meritage — the name is a blend of “merit” and “heritage” and comes from a Napa Valley wine in the style of Bordeaux — in November 2007. In 2010, they opened Meritage’s adjacent oyster bar, offering crafted cocktails and US-farmed oysters. In 2014, they also opened Brasserie Zentral, celebrating the cuisine of central Europe; Foreign Legion, a wine bar; and Café Zentral, a coffee and lunch café in the downtown Minneapolis skyway.

The most rewarding part of the Kleins’ very busy days as duo-restaurant owners remains the opportunity to serve people and give back to the community. “I hope our guests leave with a sense of pleasure, a sense that they’ve been taken care of, that they’ve escaped their world for a little while,” Klein said.

Find out more about Hamline’s psychology major on Hamline website. You can also contact Hamline's Undergraduate Admission Office to learn more about joining the Hamline community.