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Couple opens Cowboy’s restaurant in Lake Shore

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LAKE SHORE — Opening a restaurant isn’t easy, but the Knudsens are prepared for the work and it won’t be their only challenge this summer. 

Their busy schedule is only going to get more hectic when the couple’s twins are born. The babies, their first, are due in August. But they are familiar with restaurant work. 

Krista managed the restaurant when it was Matty’s. Kevin is the bar manager at Zorbaz on Gull, where he has worked since 1998 and before that when it was The Channel Inn at Granny’s Pub before Zorbaz purchased it.

Kevin used to divide his time between the lakes area and farming. He grew up in the southwestern Minnesota city of Milroy. He farmed, planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. During the winter, he worked for an accounting firm. In the summer, he was at Granny’s. A Brainerd High School graduate, Kevin went to Concordia College in Moorhead. His new role as business owner is combining all the other skills. 

Krista, who grew up in Fairmont in southern Minnesota, has years of bar and restaurant experience. The Knudsens said they liked the area and the business community with Bar Harbor and Zorbaz nearby. Both residents and the area businesses have been welcoming and supportive, Krista said. 

“It’s just a great little community up here,” she said. 

When some drink glasses hadn’t arrived on time, Zorbaz offered to lend some to cover the gap. Kevin said the ownership attitude at Zorbaz has been a belief that having more attractions in the area benefits all the businesses there. 

The couple lives minutes from the restaurant, which made the purchase of the closed building even more attractive. Matty’s closed in Lake Shore on Feb. 27. Cowboy’s opened nearly three weeks ago. The new restaurant was able to bring back a lot of the employees. 

“That’s a real blessing,” Krista said. “We all know what to expect.”  Cowboy’s anticipates employing 15 this summer. “It really is just one big family.”

Krista said after Matty’s closed, one of the hardest things was missing the people she worked with and the regulars who came through the doors. Now she said they are thankful to be back. Family support, especially when the twins arrive, is there for assistance. The Knudsens said staff members also offered to help ease the workload where they can.

“We’re so thank for that,” Krista said. 

The restaurant’s name came from Kevin’s nickname, which started as a good-humored friend told a bar patron calling “Cowboy” was the way to get Kevin’s attention. The name stuck. When people heard the Knudsens bought the building, they called and said, “You need to name it Cowboy’s.”

So don’t expect a Western theme or a mechanical bull. That’s not the image they are creating. Krista described Cowboy’s, which has a full bar with seating area along with dining room and a room for groups, as a burger and sandwich joint that focuses on the type of service that has wait staff greeting customers at the door. 

“We’re both small-town people from our roots,” Kevin said, adding they want to create a nice, local place to enjoy a meal. “I don’t see any reason why it can’t work.”

The restaurant features a wine list, a wide beer selection with 11 varieties on tap and 36 in bottles, a notable Scotch selection and a martini list is being started. A shuttle service in the area offers to take patrons out for a meal and a drink so they can try out various spots without getting behind the wheel. 

The Knudsens credited Lakes State Bank in helping them through the ownership transition and Bud and Jason Sourdiff, Property Services Plus of Lake Shore. They hired sous chef Dan Heck to head up the kitchen. There are plans for summer sandwich specials. 

Special orders are welcome and looked on as a creative challenge. The restaurant features “build-your-own burgers” or chicken with patrons able to choose from numerous toppings similar to ordering a pizza. 

A fried-egg topped burger with three kinds of cheese has been popular as has the cucumber basket with sliced cucumbers with a homemade dipping sauce. A quarter-pound burger is $5.50. Other options include a veggie burger, tilapia sandwich or romaine lettuce salads, which may be topped with a choice of meat. Fries come fresh cut, beer battered or as sweet potatoes with a sweet spice sauce. And there are even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

The restaurant seats 88 people. 

The Knudsens renovated the interior, particularly the bar area, taking the floor down to the cement and adding an acid wash and sealer. 

Barn wood that Kevin removed by hand from the family farm in southern Minnesota was used to accent a wall, frame menus and renovate the bar. The barn wood is a mix of worn gray boards and those from more protected areas that retain their original red color. A sealer was used to make the wood smooth to the touch while retaining its unique weather worn appearance. The barn was built in the late 1920s-early 1930s by Kevin’s great grandfather. 

Kevin said: “A little bit of the farm is still up here.”

Becca Clemens
After graduating high school in 2004, I attended Central Lakes College in Staples, MN for 2 years where I got a diploma in Communication Art and Design. I then transfered up to Bemidji State University in, you guessed it, Bemidji, MN. In the spring of 2009, I graduated from BSU. Then in the fall of 2009 I got a job at Echo Publishing, a sister company to the Brainerd Dispatch.