Buy a restaurant they said, it will be fun they said! COVID-19
Updated: Feb 12
They were right yet wrong in so many ways. After getting close to opening up I thought there is no real way for anyone to see or understand what this adventure has been to us, so I will start a blog to give some insight and help keep the public updated! Over the next few weeks/months you will get a play by play of the work we have put into making my dreams come true! To tell you a little bit about myself my name is Carrie I am from the Crosby-Ironton area and a proud CI Alumni.
I am married to Nick who is the most supportive, kind hearted and genuine man you will ever meet. He doesn't have much to say but I am guessing that is because I do so much talking! I worked at Craguns Resort & Legacy Courses for over 20 years in total and left with hundreds of employees and managing over 7 operations. I learned so much from my time there and Irma Cragun and without her knowledge and leadership would never have the work insight I do to see the "big picture".
Since Gary's Sports Bar closed I have driven past the building each day on my way home from work with thoughts of making it mine. In 2012 I had decided I had some serious interest in wanting to take on this adventure but as god would have it, he had other plans. It was okay but left me wondering what my life purpose was. So I dove into work thinking I would be there for ever! Yet again 8 years later god had other plans and placed me in the right path to the right people.
Here is where Deb, Dave & Sue Yunker come in. They had recently closed the property and were looking to sell. After years of friendship with Deb I was then introduced to Dave & Sue and a deal was made! Never have I been more excited to start my own business and on March 12, 2020 the Taconite Canteen & Event Center was born! Hours later a national pandemic would be declared...COVID-19. The very next day a national emergency would be declared....
Well there is no time to cry so I called my husband and said guess what we have a restaurant! He very silent and calculated said "Oh, we do? Do we?'. I started beginning the destruction and tearing the place apart while trying to stay out of the public eye in order to avoid as many questions as possible. That lasted 6 days and the word was out, in one day we had over 150 calls/texts/emails. People were curious and that felt scary and amazing all at the same time.
Knowing I would not want to open any facility without taking the time to make it my own and ensure it is the best it can be I continued to work. Many times alone(and it felt like it) but we have also had many times that we have friends and family in to help.I have found in my eagerness I am at a love for the chase of improvement without any of those friends and family we would never be as far as we are. I like to see what is and or was and what I can make it into; whether it is cleaning something that hasn't been clean in years, trying to rid smells, fixing broken items or updating things to be new and ready to go. This project has proven that love but also tested it. I tore into almost everything from the 16 pages of must, should and want to; fix, clean and repair just to be legal and able to open. Had I known that there would be so many hidden "projects" I would have never been so gungho to want to change cosmetic items along the way also. But this is a journey of love and learning and without it I would not be sitting here today to tell you about it.
This is the first summer in over 15 years that I was able to take a 2 hour break midday and kayak, take our little Tanner out swimming or even just help the neighbors. You see I have found along the way that we are very luck to have such amazing neighbors around the bar. Bonnie across the road is in her late 80's and had the best sense of humor! If you want to know the history of the area she has so much to share from the tornado in 1953 that took out her home to the grocery store which is now her home. Nic & Kenzie next door have 2 adorable littles and Nic has proven handy to have around for any big lifting projects. Amanda & Elliot with their kids and well there is so many more. Another thing that we have learned is what a great police department we have in the Deerwood PD. They are always friendly, around when you need them and overall keeping the town free of as much nonsense as possible. Lastly Cykel has moved in 1/2 a block away from us owned by a local graduate and they have made our time here an amazing first year! We have been able to watch their business grow and thrive in our little Ironton, MN. Showing us that with patience we are headed in the right direction even if 2020 was the wrong time.
With our friends and family helping we were able to get the walk-in cooler & freezers working, put in new bench seating and change paint everywhere! The bigger struggles were cleanliness, and grease build-up. It takes so much to understand the amount of cleaning we have done to make the property like new again, inside and out. Thankful for my brother who was willing to till up the yard around the building as well as the front where we put in a new fence. We had grass in 3 days!!! with help from Fin over at Cykel we were able to remove all of the rose bushes that had overgrown and destroyed parts of the fence but also removed boulders with their bobcat that we would have never been able to move. It helped us see a new and beautiful vision that I had seen in my head but needed everyone to see in person. With okay from the neighbors to be on their property we were able to get the fence pressure washed, stained and clear coated as well as paint part of it for them to match their home. Both immediate neighbors removed trees and started their own yard renovations and improvements which really made us feel proud of the progress as we were making progress they told us it made everyone want to do more.
Once it was too cold work on the outside we went back in to see we needed to replace all kitchen equipment except the pizza ovens :). With a very tight budget and so many different things popping up I continued to reuse and renew so many items I was able to get for free to a little bit of nothing. The drop ceiling and lights in the meeting room were removed and put in the apartment. The old buckets I had saved and were rusted became light fixtures. We used pallet boards for our benches. My friend Missy had a bunch of random boards that we were able to use in conjunction with some random cedar boards from my grandpa. Everything has been so long and time consuming and if I had a quarter for every kind person asking; how long? when will you open? can you hurry up? I would be able to pay for this adventure!
I have had people I know and those that know of me stop and ask to take a peek or get a tour! The unbelievable amount of support has well over shadowed the negatives! It is what allows me to get up each day and go work on another project knowing that YES this has been the longest renovation in history but I am so proud of what I have learned and accomplished and the ownership that I take in my restaurant!
My insurance agent said; "Carrie, opening a business is hard, opening a restaurant is twice as hard but trying to open during a global pandemic only you will know how hard that is!" Little did I know this would be one of my greatest reminders! If I can make it through this nothing can stop me!
Some of the other problematic issues we have had is without being open we were subject to all of the new health & building codes. Tho I understand that we all have a job to do we did not find this the most pleasant situation. From COVID-19 not allowing the state to be open which gave us an additional 5 months before we would get a state health inspection again. Thankfully I had called the day I received the keys to have them in to tell me the problems they see so we could get ahead of any large issues. That resulted in page after page of things that needed to be changed. The bright side we would have the time to do this! Once I came to terms with working around the challenges I started applying for licensing and this would also be months and months in the process. Our local Ironton government was very helpful and made the process easy but yet again with the state closed we had more time and hurdles. Insurance? With restaurant after restaurant closing in the state we had to get over 15 proposals and those were either out of this world, impossible to get or they required a resume, 2 year sales plan and previous history. Once we became victorious again I then tried for grants and loans......Ouch...... Because we had not been opened prior to COVID-19 we did not qualify for anything and since we had not been opened and banks halted business loans we also were not able to attain one of those.
Little by little items came up of interest or I found my next big project and kept moving forward! Anyone that knows me knows do not tell me we cannot do it or that I should not do it, as I will do it just to show I can and prove everyone wrong. If I liked something; wall coverings, paint, tables ect It seemed as if everyone hated them lol! But that made my vision in my head more clear, I want a beautifully un-beautiful space that feels like home and makes you want to keep coming back.
When the doors open and you are able to visit us and look around I hope you can see how much love has gone into the care of this facility and that I want to make this experience one for the books! I want you to leave smiling, happy and full only wanting to come back again next week. I also want to continue to grow in this process from my love of the "team" to learning more about the delicacies that so many want to try but do not have the access to. I plan to take many sushi classes and learn some techniques to ensure we have top notch items to draw everyone in!
Another big ticket item that I have strived to ensure we have is a happy, smiling and confident staff that is ready to serve! Something the area has never seen before, with people who are mostly from outside of the immediate area in order to end all small town gossip right away! Kindness is so underrated and yet is by far the easiest thing we can give. So many people pass judgment about things they don't know and that says nothing about you and everything about them! I am prepared for those that want to talk and judge and trust me I have already heard it all. But ultimately I did not want it to disrupt my business and definitely did not want anyone to have to deal with it more than they do already. This is where the blessings keep coming...
I was thankful to have friends and previous employees continuing to reach out and ask about availability and options. To be clear I wanted to maintain a professional persona and made a choice to not contact previous employees for employment. If they reached out to me I was honored and listened but at no time have I reached out to them. I was able to have a good friend in Shannon Adams come on board pt for management, Michael Peterson as our Executive Chef and so many more! Without knowing these people are all committing to my dream none of this would matter in the end. Mike has a drive to see everything he does successful, from food to friendship to being an amazing human being. One of the things he found fun was we again were fortunate enough that most of our vendors followed us and were excited to add another account but also watch this growth happen!
Everything seems to be falling into place and I am allowed to continue to see the best blessings daily. No matter how wrong the little things are there are alway silver linings and as Matthew McConaughey would say Greenlights! Everywhere I looked there was a blessing next to things that didn't matter. So I chose that mindset and kept looking for the greenlights, this helped me emotionally and spiritually to see this life is so valuable and short and we need to make it the best, funnest, craziest ride it can be before it is too soon over.