BAXTER-Nine years ago when RiverWood Bank was looking for a site to build a new branch, one site stood out.

A site selector hired in 2007 advised RiverWood Bank to wait until the Bonanza restaurant site just off Highway 371 in Baxter was available.

"Fate has brought us to this location," said Paul Means, RiverWood Bank chairman.

Tuesday, work began to transform that site-knocking down the former Bonanza Steakhouse restaurant-and create a RiverWood Bank branch. The branch will also house Nisswa-based StoneHouse Coffee and Roastery.

Once, Bonanza stood out as one of the few businesses on the Highway 371 strip. It closed in December after 36 years. Tuesday, during a break in the steady, cold morning rain, people gathered at the site to reminisce about its origins and look forward to a business partnership for its redevelopment.

RiverWood Bank, once based in the Westport Shopping Mall later moved out to Highway 371. RiverWood moved into an existing building, also a former restaurant turned Liberty Bank and Midwest Bank. Steve Kuepers, Kuepers Inc. architects and builders, said they look forward to getting the project done and seeing RiverWood in a new facility, which has been such a long-time dream.

There isn't a timeline yet for when the bank will be ready to open in the new site. RiverWood was founded in 2003 by local investors. Bank officials said it has outgrown its location and the timing was right for a bigger facility, twice the size that would allow adding staff and technological upgrades of touch screens, iPads and the coffee shop. Research into which coffee shop kept bringing up the name StoneHouse, which Mike and Julie French founded 15 years ago.

"We would never have had this opportunity if RiverWood hadn't called us," Mike French said.

"I think it's going to be great, especially a great opportunity for us to be in Baxter. We have great expectations," Julie French said. "I think it's going to be a great partnership."

StoneHouse expects to add about 15 staff members in Baxter and the number could grow. Customers will be able to grab coffee, homemade pastries to go or stay and talk, or go to meetings. "It will be a very nice meeting spot," Mike French said.

He said they'd like to get into lunch fare as well.

Sheila Haverkamp, Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. executive director, said being at the former restaurant allowed her to reminisce about working there when she was in high school.

"I loved it," Haverkamp said, noting the camaraderie of the employees and ownership team. Haverkamp started working at Bonanza when she was 14. And most of her siblings, four of five of the family, worked at Bonanza as did Haverkamp's son.

"For kids it was a great opportunity," she said. "Bonanza was on the outskirts of Baxter back in the day. ...

"It brings back memories," she said standing along the building taking refuge from the rain. "I just look forward. I'm glad when people reinvest. I look at it as a positive."

Haverkamp said when Bonanza opened it was a special place and now the site is embarking on a new future. Because of the community partners involved in the project, economic development is thriving.

"We're pleased and honored you decided to stay here," Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said. Baxter Council members Todd Holman and Steve Barrows were also on hand. Olson said he discovered during the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture visit that RiverWood Bank was involved in LINDAR and Gullview Technologies projects. He was impressed and pleased a local bank with local connections was investing in projects in the city.

At the Bonanza site, the restaurant sign still thanked patrons for their business and loyalty. Some of those gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony gave up the weather protection of the eaves to take photos as heavy equipment crunched through Bonanza's roof and shattered its sidewalls.

"It's kind of out with the old and in with the new," Means said. "Time passes."

Now, Means said, RiverWood has a new opportunity to be part of the Brainerd lakes area and the Baxter community.

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at