When a challenging economy made a lakes area couple look at new career options, they seized what might have seemed an unlikely opportunity.
“My husband was in construction when everything kind of crashed in on us,” Dawn Pikula said. “There was of course no work. The economy was crashing in on itself at that time.”
But Jeff Pikula had skills other than in construction. He was know nfor his barbecue and often cooked at job sites. With construction slowed to a bare crawl, they saw an option to start their own restaurant. The right opportunity presented itself on Crow Wing County Road 3 in Ossipee. While the Pikulas didn’t have restaurant experience, they surrounded themselves with people who did. They incorporated their own recipes and on Oct. 23, 2010, they took over Bobber’s Restaurant & BBQ on the stretch between Merrifield and Crosslake in the little town of Ossipee.
The restaurant, previously known as the Northwoods, had a long-standing reputation for prime rib. The Pikulas kept that tradition and added their own to the menu. They offer a layered smoked salmon. Homemade soups, such as a family recipe for chicken dumpling, are part of the menu along with salmon bisque and beer cheese, vegetable, split pea and chicken wild rice medley.
“It’s kind of like your mom,” Dawn Pikula said. In the summer, they put complimentary creamy cucumbers on the tables the way other eateries provide chips and salsa.
At the request of customers, they added an all-you-can-eat fish Fridays.
Their vision was to create a restaurant where food was homemade. They added sweet barbecue ribs. Their potatoes are really peeled and really mashed, Dawn Pikula said. They create a smoked artichoke spread.
“Everything we try to do here, we do from scratch,” she said.
They renovated the restaurant, added table cloths for fine dining on one side and embraced a fishing shack motif on the other. Now customers bring them old fishing tackle and lures to add to the mix and get a free drink. With Lake Edward and Pelican Lake nearby, customers stopped in after a day on the water looking for a burger and a salad. And to make it easier for their clients, they make everything on the menu available to go and added a full children’s menu.
With the lingering effects of the recession, it hasn’t been easy. Dawn Pikula said they’ve been holding their own with the help of good, returning patrons. A largely snowless winter after a cool summer didn’t help. The restaurant seats about 100. They’ve hosted weddings, anniversaries and catered other parties in a large room at Bobber’s. Running the restaurant is mainly a family affair with the help of part-time staff on Fridays and Saturdays.
Specialties of the house include sandwiches — prime rib, Philly prime, walleye. The menu includes burgers made into patties by hand and a big double Bobber burger.
The restaurant also features entertainment. Artists bringing their musical skills to the restaurant include Steve Anderson, known for his piano bar work at the Gull Lake Yacht Club, and guitar-playing Jim Olsen. Tim and Cindy Roggenkamp, acoustic country and bluegrass music artists, were added for a six-week run.
“We want to be the home for bluegrass here in Ossipee,” Pikula said.
Beginning in April, Bobber’s moves to its summer hours, open Tuesday through Sunday with a breakfast buffet Sunday.
The restaurant, about 12 miles north of Brainerd, has a lengthy history. Pikula is trying to capture those memories and is continuing to look for photos.
“There is an extremely rich history right here,” she said.
Years ago, the building served as a bar. Pikula’s uncle remembers drinking a root beer there while her great-grandfather had a beer. The restaurant was once called the House of George and Doris. Pikula said they started the prime rib tradition.
“It was the place to go when you wanted good prime rib,” she said. “This was kind of a stopping point for a lot of people.”
More recently it was the Northwoods with owners Bill and Betty Robin, who had the restaurant from 1975 to 2005. The couple is so popular the Pikulas plan to host a Meet and Greet Bill and Betty day when they return from Florida.
“They are still part of what was,” Pikula said. “I’m trying to follow in her footsteps and it’s hard.”
The Pikulas spent 15 years living in California before they returned home to Minnesota two decades ago. Dawn Pikula’s grandfather was George McDonald, who was known for his construction company. Years ago, Pikula said her grandfather worked on the hospital in Brainerd and the high school.
While the restaurant business hasn’t been the easiest venture during the recession, Pikula said the reward has come in meeting wonderful people.
“We’re trying to do some fun and exciting things here and still keep the quality of our food,” Pikula said. “We do have a very nice atmosphere. We try to keep it low key and friendly.”