Bonanza to close after 36 years
BAXTER - Thirty-six years ago people scoffed that a restaurant on the outskirts could survive. The outskirts turned into the Baxter commercial strip along Highway 371. And the restaurant - Bonanza - found a following with its extensive buffet and...
BAXTER - Thirty-six years ago people scoffed that a restaurant on the outskirts could survive.
The outskirts turned into the Baxter commercial strip along Highway 371. And the restaurant - Bonanza - found a following with its extensive buffet and room for guests and meetings. But that is about to change. Bonanza will be closing at the end of the day on Dec. 20.
The restaurant employs 35 people. It opened in 1979.
Jeff Dobrzynski got his first job there when he was 15 years old. It started a lifetime career in the food industry, with 13 years in the Twin Cities. On May 1, 2012, Dobrzynski purchased the restaurant operation and found a place he thoroughly enjoyed.
On Black Friday, one of the restaurant's longest employees was still adjusting to the news. She said there were a lot of tears when staff heard about Bonanza's closing, which was particularly hard because the restaurant was still successful.
"I love my job," Bonney Bertram said, noting she enjoyed serving the customers. After 15 years on the job, she has a lot of regulars she knows by name.
"It's sad," she said of the closing. Bertram started in September of 2000. She worries about the seasonal residents and summer customers who had no idea the restaurant wouldn't be here next year. "They'll be lost," she said.
She said she hopes Dobrzynski is successful in finding another place to open a restaurant.
"I love working for him, absolutely love it," Bertram said.
For Dobrzynski, having staff stick with him even after the news was indicative of the kind of support they've provided. He looked around the restaurant with its upnorth decor, polished tables and booths all in perfect order Friday. Just after 11 a.m., customers were coming in the door for the buffet.
The buffet with it's large variety was a strength for the restaurant and the many organizations it served with meeting space, Dobrzynski said.
But all that will change later this month.
A vision for the future
John Thelen can remember hearing the stories when he was a boy. Everyone told his father nothing could survive on that strip of sand in Baxter. The land was out in the tullies, past the former dump ground where the Northland Arboretum now resides. No Mills Fleet Farm. No Target store. Just sand and trees stretching largely from the amusement park with the large talking Paul Bunyan all the way to Brainerd International Raceway and Nisswa.
"For a restaurant to be that far out - it's kind of amazing that they had the foresight to see it," Thelen said. But Thelen, Kevin Close and Rod Converse did see the potential. "It was one of the first businesses out there on that end of town. They took a chance."
Thelen said times have changed and now, with the economy's revival, several parties expressed interest in the property, especially in the last eight months. Thelen said his parents owned the land and the building, which is now part of his mother's estate as his father passed away a number of years ago.
Thelen said the fact that the restaurant was able to be successful all these years - even with all those naysayers - is a testament to the vision those businessmen had early on.
Dobrzynski credits the Thelens with helping him keep the restaurant operation successful and viable from financing to equipment upgrades and repairs. And he said the support of his staff-all of whom stayed with him after the news of the closing-was essential for the business and appreciated.
"I've got a great staff," he said. "The business was very successful. I enjoy doing it. We've got a lot of regular customers."
For many years, Bonanza has been a home for multiple community organizations, which meet weekly or monthly-Brainerd Sports Boosters, Noon Sertoma and Brainerd Lions, to name a few. Dobrzynski said all have been great supporters over the years.
Dobrzynski is looking for another restaurant opportunity. It won't be another Bonanza but he's hoping to find another place. With this closing, there will be just one other Bonanza in the state in St. Cloud, perhaps indicative of changing expectations from consumers. And in Baxter, the number of choices for customers has grown in recent years. Although, lower gas prices and an improved economy may also mean people are more comfortable spending dollars on dining out.
An auction for Bonanza is planned at 10 a.m. Dec. 29 with everything going down to decor and equipment. Mohs Auctions is handling the event. The restaurant building will be torn down.
RiverWood Bank has a purchase agreement on the Bonanza site. Early next year, Riverwood Bank is expected to erect a new facility on the spot. Riverwood has been leasing space in the Westport Shopping Center on Baxter Drive in Baxter. This move will allow the bank to own its facility.
"We are scheduled to close on the purchase early next year and expect to begin construction on a new branch in 2016. We opened our branch in the Baxter market in 2004 and have been in the present location since 2007," said Paul Means, RiverWood Bank chairman and senior risk officer in Baxter.
RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .