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Area Dining: Ironton's Rib joint back in fashion

Craig Lubovich looks over an order of ribs at Louie's Bucket of Bones in Ironton. Lubovich is the new owner of the rib joint and reopened it in January. (Jeremy Millsop / Brainerd Dispatch)1 / 3
One of four starter options at Louie's Bucket of Bones in Ironton are catfish bites. Patrons can order catfish as a main dish as well. (Jeremy Millsop / Brainerd Dispatch)2 / 3
The pulled pork sandwich at Louie's Bucket of Bones in Ironton is perfect for bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts on the move. (Jeremy Millsop / Brainerd Dispatch)3 / 3

IRONTON—Craig Lubovich admits owning a restaurant wouldn't have been his first choice, but the new owner of Louie's Bucket of Bones in Ironton is all in at making the small rib joint an area's must visit.

With his families' roots securely planted in the Cuyuna Lakes area, Lubovich wanted something of his own and for his two daughters. Having worked at the restaurant under previous ownership for a couple of years, Lubovich saw what worked and what didn't. So he gambled on himself and reopened Louie's in January.

The off-peak opening allowed him to ease into the restaurant business and helped prepare him for what has been a busy summer.

"I kind of didn't know what I was getting into, but I kind of did," he said. "I've always wanted to own my own business. A restaurant maybe wasn't the best idea in the sense that it is a lot of work, but it is a lot of fun when you get a full crowd in there and it's busy on a weeknight. It makes it worthwhile."

Lubovich saw the area's growth with its biking and outdoor options. He also noticed he was offering food not many other establishments were.

"I basically went with chicken and ribs," Lubovich said. "That's what this place is famous for. I slimmed the menu down from a lot of the stuff that was on it. I wanted to simplify it. I am going to add turkey legs here pretty soon and I'm starting to smoke some chicken. I don't think anybody in the area has smoked chicken so I'm going to start with chicken wings and then I'll work with the rest of the chicken. I figured it would be something unique for the area.

"I just think if you have a really good product that is unique to the area you'll get a lot of customers that way. There aren't a lot of ribs in this area and that helps. It's been going really well. I'm getting the local people back and that's critical to surviving."

Lubovich knows he needs the local community to embrace his business if he is to survive. While the summer months have been successful with tourism and passers-by, he wants to make sure he feeds the local families as well. And the Lubovich name is established in the area.

His dad worked in the local iron ore mines and at Scorpion Snowmobile. Lubovich's mother worked at the old Jim's Lunch while raising his brother and sister and himself.

"I think that's critical because once word spread that I owned it a lot of local people started coming around," Lubovich said. "I won't survive without them. I've had some really good feedback from them, too. It would be nice to expand because there isn't anything like this even in Brainerd or Aitkin."

Louie's offers take out and it will deliver large, special orders. The menu is small, but focused. There are four appetizer choices, including the catfish nuggets, which is a nice reprieve from everyone else's walleye or cod options.

Lubovich said the pulled pork and beef sandwiches are hot sellers, especially for those on the go. The stars of the menu are the St. Louie's ribs, riblets and the broasted chicken. The chicken comes with options of being barbecued or with spicy jerk sauce. The ribs come in half or full racks.

Lubovich has two smokers on site. He places a house dry rub on the ribs and marinades them for 24 hours before smoking.

"My expectations were to just get my foot in the door and surviving the first couple of years," Lubovich said. "I'm just getting a grasp on how many employees should I have on and when.

"My expectations were to just survive the first year and then do the adjustments the next year. I would like to expand and maybe get a little food truck and go to the bike races and to BIR and stuff like that and branch out to that type of stuff."

Lubovich still works for the Crosby-Ironton School District and will slim down the store hours during the school year. Louie's is currently open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.

As for the future, he's got big ideas, but knows he wants to keep it simple and keep it good.

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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