As soon as Sam Maksutosk stepped into the parking lot at the one-time Holiday Inn in south Brainerd, he had a gut feeling about the restaurant opportunity inside.
He brought his wife, three daughters and son from Ladysmith, Wis., to see the lakes area and the potential the restaurant possessed. The building was in the middle of renovations so looking past what was to what could be took a little imagination and a solid belief in hard work to make it happen.
The family drove around to see what Brainerd and Baxter offered.
They agreed to take a chance and uproot themselves from their Wisconsin home.
“It was an easy decision to make -- a risky decision, but easy at the same time,” Maksutosk said. “We came inside here and I saw the potential this place has and what’s around.”
Now with two children in middle school and two in elementary school, Maksutosk said he wants to make the Brainerd lakes area home for a long time. He pointed to his past jobs, one covering 10 years and the other seven, as an example of his willingness to put in the time in a demanding and time-intensive industry. His next challenge is to encourage customers to give his comfort food and his family restaurant a try.
“Hopefully we get the support from the community,” Maksutosk said. “We are hoping to last here a long time actually. … I like everything about here. It’s just a matter of getting the word out.”
Maksutosk said some customers thought the new restaurant was linked to past owners or previous efforts where people closed and left or have been left with that example.
“I have too much invested in here and I risked too much for me to just pick up and go,” he said.
Opening a restaurant in a spot where several others have tried unsuccessfully to make a go of it can be a daunting task. But Maksutosk said he is patient.
Brainerd Family Restaurant opened in February enduring a brutally cold winter that had the ability to put a chill on going out to eat. But Maksutosk said business is building with repeat customers, some of whom arrive every Sunday. Now the goal is to reach more people to let them know the restaurant is open.
“So far it’s been good,” Maksutosk said.
A senior menu has been popular, he said. Soup and sandwich is served all day for $7.
The menu is expansive. There are signature omelets and hash browns with toast, pancakes or fruit. Other menu items include skillets, Belgian waffles, steak and eggs, burgers and fries, salads, stir fry, pasta, seafood, wraps, burritos, hand-crafted sandwiches and club sandwiches. There are lighter plates with lower calories, a kids’ menu and senior citizens’ menu. Appetizers include cheese curds, green bean fries and smothered french fries. Other mainstays include a chicken dumpling soup made daily along with a variable soup of the day to go with it.
Sam’s cinnamon french toast combo is served with two eggs, two bacon strips, two sausage links and a slice of ham with hash browns and two slices of french toast for $8.75 or $9.75 to upgrade to four slices of french toast.
Breakfast classics include corned beef hash and eggs for $8.25 or a spinach tomato and cheese melt with hash browns for $7. The most expensive item on the menu is a top sirloin and jumbo shrimp for $14.50. Otherwise, most items are in the $6-9 range.
Carry out is available. The restaurant menu includes a Greek omelet and Greek gyro salad as well as a gyro sandwich.
Maksutosk said everything is made fresh to order. He runs a breakfast special from 6-11 a.m. for $5 with the menu changing day to day. It may be eggs, hash browns, toast or pancakes one day and a breakfast burrito the next, and a scrambler the day after that.
“I want people to know we are here and we open at six in the morning,” Maksutosk said, adding early mornings were slow before 8 a.m. but it is gradually picking up as people realize the restaurant is open. “I still get people here who don’t know we are open because they still see trailers in the back they are thinking we are still renovating.”
Maksutosk works in the kitchen. He said he’s been cooking since he was 13, learning from his father. His wife, Julie, works in the dining room.
Maksutosk said his preference is to prepare comfort foods in a restaurant with a relaxed dining area where customers can take their time to enjoy their meal.
“My main goal is I moved here I want to make a life for me, my kids, my family, the employees here. Make a living, you know, like a better life for my family to for my kids,” Maksutosk said, noting the education options for the children. “Graduate here. I want them to have a better life than I did. I don’t want them to work as hard as I did. That’s why I made the decision to open the restaurant.”
The American dream in a nutshell.
“If you do it, you can achieve it. You’ve got to work hard for it,” he said. “If you put your mind to it and you do it, it will get to that dream you dream of but if you do nothing about it you can’t just sit back and oh it will come to me. It doesn’t.”
After leaving Ladysmith, Wis., with a population of about 3,000, to come to the much larger population of Brainerd and Baxter, Maksutosk said he didn’t expect to find the amenities of a larger, busier city that still retained a small-town feeling. Maksutosk had never heard of Brainerd before arriving to check on the restaurant, but he said when he went back to Wisconsin and told his co-workers where he was headed, they all knew about Brainerd and had vacationed here.
The move, from one Midwestern state to another, wasn’t nearly as big as the Maksutosks' trek from Macedonia, spanning parts of northern Greece and the Balkan Peninsula, to Wisconsin in 1993. His wife, Julie, arrived in 2011. Sam Maksutosk added Spanish to his list of languages.
While the list of restaurants continues to grow in the area, Maksutosk said he thinks the lakes area population is large enough to provide a decent business for everyone. He recently had 35 people in from an antique car group. The restaurant employs 11.
Maksutosk said his initial trip to check out the Brainerd restaurant came at the suggestion of the owner of the also newly renovated and open hotel adjoining the restaurant. Now branded a Quality Inn & Suites, the hotel also includes an EconoLodge. The restaurant is owned by the Maksutosks and is operated separately from the hotel. Maksutosk said he is focused on growing the business.
“I know it has the potential to be even more that what it is,” he said. “I do want the people to know I am here. We are here to stay.”
Maksutosk said he wants to be involved in the community. He noted in Wisconsin, they included fundraisers for law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and churches.
“Hopefully I will get to that point,” he said. “It will just take time. I just want the public to know we are here and we are open.”
The restaurant is open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Since the first days of opening, Maksutosk said he’s had return customers.
“That tells me I am doing something right,” he said.