The recession and cost of doing business has taken its toll on a restaurant that opened 14 months ago.
Country Time Cafe and Bakery in Brainerd is closing Monday. The building is owned by Bill Matthies of the Minnesota School of Diving. Rick Spaid and Mark Sunde leased the space, once the Deli Station and convenience stores of various names at the corner of Washington and North Eighth streets, opening in November 2008.
Sunde and Spaid put their thoughts about the closing down on paper.
"It's time, time to pack up and move on with our lives," they said. "We gave our cafe/bakery everything we had, but with the economy the way it is going and everyone feeling the crunch, it's time to say so long.
Country Time Cafe and Bakery is the latest casualty of the recession. The restaurant opened at the corner of Washington and North Eighth streets in November 2008. The business will close Monday. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
"We didn't want to make a lot of money we just wanted to survive and it has come to the point where that is becoming more difficult everyday."
Spaid and Sunde pointed to increased costs in food products, gas charges and state taxes. They said hidden costs and fees, that come to light after getting into a business, take a huge toll on a small enterprise.
"It's really sad actually," Spaid and Sunde said. "They want businesses to start up to offer people chances at jobs so your community grows. They should really work with small businesses and not against them. ... We need small businesses and large businesses to get people back to work."
They listed business cost for electricity and advertising and fees from the city for a temporary sign and to the police department for having a security system.
"So to you people that want to start a small business we wish you the best of luck in your journey but make sure you check and double check every fee every cost to start up your business. Make sure that you check with the city of Brainerd for all their ordinances they have in effect. The blame is actually no where or on any one person, they all need to operate, it's just some fees you pay we think are totally ridiculous and unexplainable. Some of the fees are very small, but to small businesses starting and trying to make it work, these fees all add up in the daily operations of the business."
Spaid and Sunde said they had a gas fee for product delivery even when the delivery company's trucks were going by their business daily, sometimes several times a day. When their orders weren't large enough to be delivered and they met the truck at another location, they reported they still had a gas surcharge. It all added up.
"The cafe/bakery wasn't huge by all means but it was homey, comfortable, great atmosphere and clean," Spaid and Sunde said, adding they tried to keep costs affordable for families so they could go out and eat. Rising costs meant they would have needed to increase their prices and the restaurant owners said people just couldn't afford that.
"We want to say good-bye and good luck to all the great people we met, the fun we had with customers ... and the many friends we met in the 14 months we were open.
Construction continued Thursday on the Pequot Lakes SuperValu on Highway 371 in Pequot Lakes. Brainerd Dispatch/Jodie Tweed
"We would love to remain open but with the economy problems it is not possible. We wish anyone that is going to start up a business the best of luck and to anyone in business small or large the best of luck. So here is saying 'good-bye.'"
While Country Time is closing, others are taking a gamble in this economy and getting in now expecting the recovery.
Long-time area entrepreneur Cathy Hughes, who has opened several businesses in the region and sold or closed a few, is no stranger to start-up costs. While she wasn't looking for a new venture, Hughes was lured to Pequot Lakes by those who dined at her Tuscany Room restaurant in Aitkin.
Hughes is familiar with having many irons in the fire at once.
Hughes started with Hawkeye's Coffee shop and restaurant in downtown Aitkin and added the Gumdrop Tree toy store just down the block, which now includes Bath, Bubbles and Bling. She later expanded the toy store to several lakes area cities and ventured into the bakery business with Krumbles. Hughes opened a retail kitchen gadget shop called Crickets Cooks and Books with the restaurant the Tuscany Room in Aitkin. After Krumbles closed in the Baxter Village along Highway 371, Hughes opened the Kitchen Place there.
Now she is opening the Tiki Room restaurant in the Jack Pine Center in Pequot Lakes. Consider it the Polynesian sister to the Tuscany Room. In Aitkin, the atmosphere with the wall murals of the Tuscan countryside helped sell the concept and bring customers in along with theme dinners that combined a meal with a movie at the nearby Rialto. While the original thought was to take the Tuscany Room to Pequot, the decor and motif of the space in the Jack Pine Center didn't fit the concept.
Hughes looked at the blue carpet and outdoor patio and made a change. Pink flamingos are in along with a bamboo water fountain and Caribbean music. Wait staff attire? Hawaiian shirts. Wall artwork? A huge sea turtle, florals and hanging jelly fish.
"There is nothing like this in the Brainerd lakes," Hughes said. The menu will build on the Tuscany Room's success and mirror menu items there with expansions like gourmet build-your-own hot-dogs with everything from pineapple to sauerkraut for toppings. She plans to have vegetarian and gluten free offerings. About 10 flavors are expected in the ice cream cabinet with the option to create an ice cream cookie sandwich as customers choose their dessert combinations.
Hughes plans Sunday brunches and expects to hire three to five people. First the space is being renovated and energy efficient windows added. Expectations are to open April 1. Hughes said because the Jack Pine Center is a mini-mall with a number of businesses, it invites walk-ins. A walk-up window will allow customers to get smoothies or the ice cream cookies at the window or eat in the dining room, which seats about 50, or take a seat at a table set up in the hallway. A small retail area will carry the Polynesian restaurant items such as salt and pepper shakers/grinders.
In an effort to be more "green" Hughes plans to use reusable bamboo placements instead of paper products.
Why take the risk on another business? "I've done well with Tuscany Room and believe in myself enough to believe I would do well with the Tiki Room," Hughes said, adding she is finding restauranteering is her niche and taps into her creativity. And right now, Hughes said the conventional wisdom is the people who are able to take a risk are probably the ones who will be in good shape for the recovery.
"Why wouldn't this type of restaurant go great in that type of town," Hughes said. "I believe small towns really like what this has to offer."
With jobs needed, Hughes said if she can create a good situation and help someone out with work that is what she want's to do. She said providing good food at reasonable prices and giving the customer an experience for their money is a lot easier than trying to make retail work right now.
Jimmy's Pizza, on Washington Street in Brainerd in the former Taco John's site near Gillis Avenue, is progressing toward a mid-March opening. Owner Charlie Johnson plans to hire about a dozen people for his restaurant.
"It's really coming together," Johnson said. "I think it's going to impress."
Johnson said when a friend of his was recently staying in Aberdeen, S.D., and asked the hotel clerk for a good pizza place, Jimmy's Pizza got the nod. The friend called Johnson the next day saying he'd be Johnson's first customer.
RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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