Local restaurants rally around employees, each other

Preorders of a Saturday, Dec. 19, Prairie Bay Grill meal garnered more than $6,000 in food sales alone, not including the tips and extra gifts diners added to the fund. All of that money will be donated to employees facing layoffs or reduced hours.

Prairie Bay Grill and Catering in Baxter is looking to add the ability to sell bottles of wine and six-packs of beer with food orders in a venture into selling prepackaged meals that customers would make at home. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

When the owners of Prairie Bay Grill in Baxter were forced to lay off a majority of their staff for the second time this year just before the holidays, they wanted to help support their team financially.

“We’re not the types that get angry,” said Nick Miller, one of the owners of 3 Cheers Hospitality, which operates Prairie Bay along with other restaurants in the area. “A lot of people are doing that right now but we’re just trying to problem-solve.”

Despite facing significant revenue loss amid the closure of indoor dining ordered by Gov. Tim Walz in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Miller and business partner John Poston decided to share some of what they’re still taking in. Organizing a “3 Cheers for Family” to-go meals promotion, Miller and Poston donated 100% of the sales and tips to staff, and customers responded. Preorders of the Saturday, Dec. 19, meal garnered more than $6,000 in food sales alone, not including the tips and extra gifts diners added to the fund.

“We’re going to split it amongst everybody and take care of our people that are laid off. I have some people that are on reduced hours, too. John and I wanted to take care of everybody,” Miller said.

Miller said even though the business is challenged by the circumstances, taking care of their people was what was in their hearts.


“John and I have tried our best to be good businesspeople but we don’t have the same support either, so it’s really hard to stretch too far with what we can do. It’s a long game, we have to get through the spring,” he said. “So we’re trying to figure out how to make it, but it's also a heart thing. We want to take care of our people.”

Other community members and lakes area businesses are also finding creative ways to support one another this especially difficult holiday season.

On Facebook, the Town Tavern in Ironton reported employee Jessica Cutter-Decent ordered sweatshirts with the phrase “Just Another Bar” to sell, with all the profits going directly to Town Tavern employees on unemployment.

Shawn Hansen, executive director of hunger-fighting nonprofit The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes, organized a collection for deserving restaurant employees alongside Goody’s Gourmet Treats owners Joe and Denise Laudenbach. According to a social media post from Hansen, the group collected $2,120 and selected eight area restaurant employees at random to receive a gift of cash.

“We are hoping that this small gesture will help them through the Holidays,” Hansen’s Facebook post stated. “With the current mandates in place for our local restaurants, we know that staff is either laid off, or not working many hours, definitely not getting the tip money they usually make.

Covid 19 has been difficult on this industry.”

Chris Dunmire, owner of Dunmire’s Bar & Grill in Brainerd, invited people to park their fish houses last weekend in the restaurant’s parking lot to order takeout and enjoy outdoor dining and drinks. But it wasn’t limited to the offerings on the Dunmire’s menu. On social media, he encouraged people to support surrounding businesses as well.

“ … As long as your supporting local eats and Togo drinks from any bar not just mine I want to try to help everyone including those that don’t have parking for fish houses like the bars downtown,” Dunmire wrote on Facebook. “Go grab something from your favorite place (or Dunmire’s), come park, eat and enjoy yourself.”


When it comes to businesses that have opted to defy executive orders and open for indoor dining, Miller said he does not pass judgment on those decisions and is instead focused on his own business.

“There’s no hard judgment on anybody trying different ways to do things. It’s not my business. At the end of the day, my business is my business, and we’re going to work hard doing it the way we do it,” he said. “We’re one big honking Brainerd lakes community. It’s too bad it’s so divisive, but I think it’s going to get better. I honestly believe that. We’re a big strong community and we’re taking care of everybody.”

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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