DEERWOOD — A converted church may be the perfect setting for fresh starts.
In Deerwood, the re-opening of the Deerstand restaurant and bar, just off Highway 6, is providing a new option for a community, a business and a couple behind the effort.
Shane and Jenny Miles first met in a restaurant. They understand the enormous work load and thin profit margins. But they have a passion for the industry and an appreciation for the ability to work for themselves.
Shane started as a cook and dishwasher when he was 16. He worked at Miramar, Harbor Inn, Carlsona Beach. He learned the trade from teachers who stressed consistency. Later he had his own cable/telephone business for five year. He earned a good income. The future seemed bright. But the road wasn’t smooth ahead.
A methamphetamine addiction derailed those plans.
“I blew it all,” Shane said.
He was an addict for four years. They lost the business. He was arrested and served 90 days for a fifth-degree possession charge. He was in and out of jail constantly for eight months.
“I got busted and I went to jail and I learned the consequences of what you do,” Shane said. “It’s only the end of the road if you don’t learn from it.”
They remember going before a judge who said out of 100 meth cases seven become sober and only one person makes it longer than a year. And then the judge said: “I don’t think you will be that person.”
Shane said it was pure grace that his family stayed with him through it all. But Jenny said people are together celebrating 50 years of marriage because they stayed through the good times and the bad. She said the addiction was an illness and she made a vow for sickness and in health. They went through drug counseling.
“I blew everybody’s trust and I earned it back,” Shane said. “I thank everybody around me to be alive.”
Now they make time to go the jail once a week and visit inmates. They see a lot of repeat offenders. Shane said it reminds him where he’s been. He said he had to surrender to the idea he could never do drugs again and while that seemed daunting to think of in terms of forever, it was workable one day at a time.
“The one thing you have to do to remain sober is to change everything,” Jenny said. Shane went back to an industry he knew and worked in restaurants again. Now married for 14 years, the couple has two daughters, Emma, 7, and Abby, 4.
“I had to learn to look in the mirror and forgive myself so I could be a good dad, a good husband,” Shane said.
When the Deerstand went into foreclosure, they saw an opportunity. And with their family’s faith and support, they were able to purchase the shuttered restaurant in February. They reopened the business on Easter weekend, a time symbolic for fresh starts.
“It’s awesome,” Shane said of being executive chef and owner. On a recent weekday, customers were coming in for lunch. Jenny took orders at the tables while Shane worked in the kitchen. They know they are on a learning curve as owners and noted it’s a different feeling when they are paying the bills. But they said the challenge is exciting. Jenny is familiar with being a multi-tasker. She is treasurer at her church and is going to school full time at Central Lakes College for accounting. She said they’d never be able to handle it all without the family’s support. They have learned that when they go home, they have to stop talking about business and focus on the other things in their lives.
Besides the Deerstand, they also handle the kitchen for the Cuyuna Country Club. Jenny said they had eight grooms’ dinners already booked before they opened last month.
Jenny said they want to provide a casual, friendly dining experience for people who want a nice meal at a decent price.
To be effective at the restaurant, Jenny said they need to be present as owners and be hands-on in the operation, to be the face of the business.
“I think the owner being there makes a big difference,” she said.
At the Deerstand, they want to be known for the meals, they said. Shane creates his own sauces, including a famous buffalo wing sauce. Signature menu items include a port prime rib and New York strip cooked and cut like prime rib with a bleu cheese walnut sauce.
The menu includes traditional burgers and sandwiches with french fries. They have a popular French dip sandwich of sliced beef with sauteed mushrooms, fried onions and Swiss cheese for $9. Menu items include steak, salmon, and chicken salads with a bacon, lettuce and tomato salad. There are cheese curds and spring rolls and seasonal veggie trays for appetizers, along with hand-breaded walleye fingers and peel and eat shrimp. Handmade 12-inch pizzas include a chicken and wild rice version with grilled chicken, Canadian bacon and Parmesan sauce. Other popular menu items include the deep-fried chicken.
They employ 20 people, with five people working full time. They had 200 applications for those job openings.
The restaurant is open seven days a week. They are planning a Mother’s Day buffet. And on Sundays they are starting a pasta plate special starting at 2 p.m. where customers may build their own plates by choosing the pasta, meat, sauce and vegetable for $10.
They’ve made a few changes inside the restaurant, which also features an outside deck for dining. They are adding high tables in the main dining area as well.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Shane said. “I’m grateful to have an opportunity to be here.”