Ed Mattson was used to seeing the vacant restaurant on Highway 210 northeast of Brainerd.
He lived nearby and knew it could be frustrating that most dining choices were farther away. He also remembered the success of the former eatery at its most renown as Hasse's.
Mattson, who owns Tropical Nites Bar in downtown Brainerd, connected with a real estate agent regarding the vacated restaurant.
"It was a good timing thing," Mattson said.
Ed Mattson, owner of the Hickory Grille restaurant, is already considering an expansion plan to add banquet facilities. The restaurant, located five miles northeast of the East Brainerd Mall on Highway 210, opened in February. (Dispatch Photos by Steve Kohls)
He purchased the restaurant Dec. 31.
Located about five miles northeast of the East Brainerd Mall, the Hickory Grille opened in the former Hasse's restaurant building in February.
"The day we opened it was nonstop," Mattson said. "We were pretty surprised."
The first weekend had a waiting list stretching for an hour and a half.
Most recently the building housed the failed venture known as Tu Casa. The restaurant had been sitting empty for months. Pipes had frozen and were broken. Renovation work cleaned up woodwork, put in new flooring in many areas and redid the walls. But Mattson said he believed if he had any luck replicating the Hasse's eating experience, people would remember it and return.
He said from the moment the $50,000 in renovation work started, people were stopping in to say they ate there 10 years ago. And people actually stopped in the day the purchase was final when they saw activity at the building.
"So it was encouraging from the day I bought it," he said.
A former wooden Hasse's sign was discovered behind the restaurant, cleaned and added to the interior decor. Mattson said the Hasse's type of food -- ribs, burgers, appetizers, steaks and seafood -- was the type of food people wanted to go out to eat.
Hickory smoked ribs are going to be a signature item and that idea contributed to the restaurant's name. The decor is designed to mimic an up north cabin.
The menu is extensive with sandwiches, dinners, salads. Sandwiches include burgers and grilled chicken. But the Hickory Grille's signature items are prime rib and walleye. Mattson said the dinner crowd has been good and weekends are busy. So busy he recommends reservations.
There are taco salads, smokehouse BLTs and steak sandwiches, fettucine Alfredo, Atlantic salmon and vegetarian fare. The restaurant features prime rib on Fridays and Saturdays and has daily specials. The dessert menu includes "one killer brownie" and "Cooooool chocolate cake."
Prices range from a $5.25 burger to $22.95 for twin lobster tails. Mattson said the average customer spends close to $8 for a meal. He described the atmosphere as laid back. Walls are decorated with northwoods themes, including fishing tackle.
Mattson said the restaurant, which has a full liquor license, is averaging 100 to 200 people each night but is busier on weekends. Hickory Grille employs 18 people.
The dining area seats about 96. Hickory Grille also is offering to do catered private parties and if that goes well Mattson plans to expand to off-site catering.
Mattson is already considering a building expansion in the next few months.
"There is a very good possibility it will get bigger," he said.
With an expansion for a 600-seat room, Mattson said Hickory Grille could host wedding parties, banquets and other venues. A large banquet facility is needed in the area, he said. Mattson wants to bring in 80s bands and rock-and-roll bands and comedians for weekend entertainment.
Right now lunch is experimental. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m. and stays open until 9-10 p.m. at night and a bit later on weekends.
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