NISSWA -- It began with an idea to create an upscale comfortable place to eat where people wanted to be.
But if people expected a traditional supper club, the newly opened Nisswa Grille has a few surprises in store for them. Ingredients for the business included lots of spice and seasonings in the food and lots of community support to bring a well-known Morey's fish further north.
"It was really the town's people who brought us to Nisswa," owner Steve Frank said. "Based on traffic counts and not having done any advertising yet, we are feeling very encouraged about the feedback we're getting."
Frank also owns Morey's Market and Grille on Highway 371 North and Morey's Market in Motley. He said other Main Street and area businesses were instrumental in supporting the idea to move into the building vacated by the closing of the Adirondack coffee bar.
Upstairs, the Nisswa Grille features a raw bar and a piano where guests are welcome to share their skills.
Every morning the Nisswa Grille opens at 7 a.m. with coffee and fresh baked goods. By 11 a.m. people appear to be ready to check out the cafeteria-style lunch offerings from homemade soups to salads and sandwiches. Frank said there is a basic challenge in such a high traffic area as summertime on Main Street in Nisswa.
"How do you serve people quickly without doing fast food?" Frank said. One answer was the cafeteria option where diners slide a tray along and food servers provide quick access to premade lunch items.
At dinner time -- between 5-10 p.m. -- the restaurant changes costumes from its more casual collegiate attire to linens, napkins and China. And the dining experience is a little different fare for the lakes area. Specialties come in family sizes that serve two to three people. There are also side plates for appetizers to add or entrees for one.
Frank and Ellen Frank discovered that they often wanted to sample each other's dinner choices when going out.
A year-round restaurant, the Nisswa Grille opened in the former Adirondack coffee bar on Main Street in Nisswa. The building provided the new restaurant with existing character while interiors were updated.
"So we thought let's design a menu around that," Frank said. "If you are going to go out and eat (today) it's a social event."
The Nisswa Grille opened quietly on June 17. But it did not take long for the word to travel. In three weeks, the new restaurant served 8,500 meals, Frank said. Much of the work was done in the planning stages. Frank said sorting through the wines with wine buyer Cecil McCollough was an 11-week process to find the right wines with the right value, while keeping the list interesting and fun.
"I think it's pretty much what we envisioned," Frank said of the restaurant.
Some of the infrastructure work to update the plumbing and electrical portions of the former Adirondack building was a bigger job than expected. Frank said they wanted to use the building's existing character with an updated look.
A gas fireplace is expected to add to the downstairs dining room once the fall chill is back in the air. And a dead space beneath the stairs was transformed to resemble a faux wine cellar with the helpful illusion of a little paint. Upstairs a raw oyster bar may be less known by guests. But Frank said after two weeks the restaurant did sell 50-dozen oysters on the half shell, which was more than he expected for an item expected to be of interest, but perhaps not a big seller.
The Nisswa Grille includes a coffee shop and gift shop along with a baked goods case. A retail case allows diners to take fresh fish or imported salami home. The work begins early as food preparation begins about 5:30 a.m. Some dining options include poached walleye salad, ribs, pasta, shrimp, chicken, or even tomato bisque.
The restaurant seats 58 downstairs and 82 upstairs. There are 22 employees in Nisswa for a total of 64 workers, including the Franks' other stores.
"We would like to do some more stores," Frank said, noting Alexandria and Garrison have been two locations under consideration. For owners, challenges with expansions include not being able to be onsite all the time. Frank said a key is to pick good management staff at each site and empower them to make decisions so the operation runs smoothly when they are not there.
With thanks for a supportive community, Frank said the goal will be to interest regulars year-round.
"The challenge will be to, as we get through the tourist season, to captivate the year-round audience that will really be our life blood."
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