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Anamoose serves up multiple dining options

Something’s cooking in Anamoose

Jill Schramm/MDN Brad Wagner, back left, started 1909 Steakhouse in an old bank building renovated by the city of Anamoose. He stands in the restaurant and his sister and co-worker, Beth Housh. Seated are Beth Melton, an employee, and her husband, Andrew, whose Anamoose construction company did the renovation work.

ANAMOOSE – A small town hungry for economic growth, Anamoose has found a niche in the dining business.

While many rural communities might struggle to keep a single cafe going, the recent opening of a new steakhouse brings the number of Anamoose eateries to three, which doesn’t include the local bar where a person can get a slice of pizza.

1909 Steakhouse opened last December in an historic bank building on Main Street. Other Main Street restaurants are FARMtastic Heritage Food Hub, which is in its second year, and Anamoose Cafe & Bakery, carrying on a long history of a downtown cafe. However, the restaurants all close on Mondays when the Anamoose Senior Citizens Center offers its home-cooked lunches to the public.

“We are not here to compete,” said Brad Wagner, the new steakhouse owner.

“It’s a continuation of choices,” said Julia Petrovic, whose family operates FARMtastic. “It’s exciting for a small town to have that many choices.”

Jill Schramm/MDN Julia Petrovic stands in the FARMtastic Heritage Food Hub dining area. The Anamoose restaurant serves a variety of fare made from locally grown products.

The decision to add a steakhouse to the mix came from the Anamoose Jobs Development Authority, which in 2016 acquired the old bank building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Previously, a committee looking to clean up Main Street for the 2011 school reunion discovered the bank building was for sale. Twelve individuals pooled resources to buy it and obtained a grant and large donation to replace the roof. The owners held Christmas home tours and pinochle tournaments, sold concessions at Market in the Park, put on a community theater production and held other fundraisers for the building.

Over time, the number of owners dwindled to just Bonnie Helm. An Anamoose City Council member and McHenry County Economic Development director, Helm persuaded the city to restart its dormant JDA and then sold the bank to it for $10, opening the door to grant opportunities. The USDA gave a $218,460 grant in 2016 and a $67,866 grant in 2018 for renovation.

Community pioneer J.J. Schmidt had built the bank as Anamoose State Bank in 1907. He converted it to Anamoose National Bank in 1909, from which comes the date on the building. According to an antique money website, the bank printed $233,700 worth of national currency from 1909 to 1926. Although the number of blue seal national bank notes printed was a small output, it was significant amount for a small bank.

“There’s a lot of history behind this and the uniqueness of the building, besides its age,” said Andrew Melton, whose Anamoose construction company spent 14 months renovating the building. He said the building had sat dormant after asbestos was removed because of the difficulty finding a contractor to do the renovation.

Jill Schramm/MDN Patrons dine and visit at the regular Monday lunch served at the Anamoose Senior Center Jan. 13.

“I live here. I like history. I love a challenge, so when they asked me to do a few things around here, it wasn’t long before they realized I should just take the whole project and run with it,” he said. “We wanted to keep it as original as possible. So everything on the outside remains the same. We even put the windows back like they were and all the molding.”

The building has the original door from 1907. That was the most difficult challenge because the door opened in rather than out, in violation of fire code. The solution was to “grandfather” the door to be able to differ from code.

Getting into the vault also was tricky because they didn’t have the lock combinations. Melton said he eventually cracked the code. Melton’s research discovered the Anamoose vault is somewhat unique as one of only three vaults in the country with two doors.

“The vault was built first, then the building. They built the vault and realized that it wasn’t exactly square with the road. So they turned the building so the building and the vault are not squared with each other. So that was the next challenge – trying to get it all to look like it fits,” Melton said.

Melton added his own touches, too. He engraved “Welcome to the 1909 Steakhouse” into a former basement baseboard to hang on the restaurant wall. He inlaid replicated 1909 Lincoln pennies into the bartop in the bar, built inside the vault. He also found early Anamoose postcards featuring landmarks such as the depot and opera house that he photographed and enlarged to make prints to hang on the restaurant walls.

Having designed the building as a restaurant, the JDA sought someone to run it. Wagner had been advertising that he was looking for a bar or restaurant to operate. Anamoose’s city auditor presented the town’s opportunity, and he liked what he saw.

Wagner had been working in the food industry since age 16 when he became employed at Wagon Masters in Jamestown. He was there about 11 years before managing Perkins in Jamestown, where he learned the business side of the restaurant industry. When a colleague was looking for a partner on a restaurant in Maddock, where an old building was being refurbished, Wagner fell in love with the community project and joined the effort. He later bought a restaurant in LaMoure and ran it for three years. He then operated the cafe in Hague for a year.

He said he was excited about the Anamoose project because it reminded him of the successful, community effort that went into the restaurant in Maddock.

“I really prefer these smaller towns,” Wagner said. “I chose this place for a reason. I want to become part of the community.”

In addition to local support, 1909 Steakhouse has drawn customers from a large regional area.

“If the food is good, which it is, and the service is good, which it is, then the word of mouth is going to get out. And it’s been showing that it has,” said Melton’s wife, Beth, a JDA board member and steakhouse employee.

Offering specials ranging from cheeseburger deals to German and Mexican food, the steakhouse has sought to entice a broad customer base. With people backed up by the door to get in, the biggest initial challenge when the restaurant first opened was minimizing customer wait times as staff learned the ropes. The steakhouse can accommodate up to 50 guests. The steakhouse can host private parties and events and has been talking with the VFW about using its hall for overflow to accommodate larger groups. Wagner sees potential for ribfest and food-eating competitions or street dances.

The business has hired more employees than it had anticipated it would have at this early stage. Wagner said the steakhouse has about six employees and is looking to hire more. His sister, Beth Housh, moved to Anamoose to help.

The steakhouse’s hours from 4 to 9 p.m. complement the daytime hours of Anamoose’s other restaurants.

FARMtastic Heritage Food Hub will complete two years of operation in March. Mirek and Julia Petrovic have closed the restaurant in the slower months of January and February this year. The restaurant is largely family-run, with extra help brought on during the busier months of May through July.

The restaurant came about as the Petrovics were looking for a way to add value to produce grown for farmers markets or other direct users. They had been aggregating produce grown by area gardeners and marketing it in Bismarck, which was successful, but eventually the market became saturated. Setting up a storefront for bulk products in Anamoose also wasn’t the ultimate solution.

“We decided the most value I can add to fresh produce is to cook with it,” Julia Petrovic said.

Mirek Petrovic built a certified kitchen, and they opened North Dakota’s first organic farm-to-table restaurant in a town of an estimated 286 people in the middle of a rural area. It has seating for 35, a bakery and serves a secondary role as an aggregation and distribution center for produce. Adding to the diversification, the restaurant has an annual Norsk Hostfest booth, has partnered with artists to host art and food parties, and Julia Petrovic said she is considering offering cooking classes.

To celebrate its first anniversary last year, the restaurant served an international buffet that went over so well that it continued through the month.

“It just developed to a point where I said to myself it’s not wise to quit,” Julia Petrovic said. An international buffet, featuring a different country each week, has been served every Thursday.

“Initially, our vision for the food hub was completely different to what it is now. And that’s exciting because as a business owner, as a visionary, as an entrepreneur, you have to have that flexibility. You can have a vision and you can see that it worked somewhere else, but you cannot just bring that model, 100% concrete, to your situation. You need to adjust and adapt, and that’s what happened here as well,” Petrovic said.

The restaurant works with seven producers in a 90-mile radius. It locally sources its beef and bison meat. Menus are planned around the availability of certain produce.

“We’ve combined our Slavic heritage with the local North Dakota-grown produce,” Petrovic said. Among constants on the ever-changing menu of soups, salads and entrees are dishes such as pierogies stuffed with potatoes, cheese and onions, and Russian pelmeni, a beef dumpling.

“We specialize in the Russian borscht. It’s a hot item anytime of the year, whether it’s summer or winter,” Petrovic said. She also makes her own sauerkraut.

Gaining a following from as far away as Dickinson, FARMtastic made the top 10 of best places to eat in North Dakota on the Only in Your State website.

“We’re a niche restaurant,” Petrovic said. “I don’t think I can please the masses. I please people that are foodies, that are excited to try something new.”

When re-opened in March, the restaurant will resume serving Tuesday through Saturday.

Next door, the Anamoose Cafe & Bakery offers breakfast, lunch and bakery items. The lunch is a meal buffet with items such as barbecued ribs or chicken and mashed potatoes. Customers also can order burgers and fries from the menu. The business is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Owner Connie Rudnik said she typically serves from 75 to 100 customers each day. Many customers are local but it is the region that provides the solid support that ensures the restaurant’s continued operation, she said.

Once used as a drug store, the building has been a cafe owned by various entrepreneurs over the past 50 years.

“It’s always been a busy place,” Rudnick said.

Rudnick had opened a bakery in 1998 at another location. When the previous cafe owners left, the city wanted to see it continue on Main Street and persuaded Rudnik to move her business. The cafe prepared the local senior meals for a time.

Kathy Rademacher of Anamoose now prepares the menus and cooks Monday’s senior center meals, which typically draw 40 to 50 people on bingo days and 30 to 40 people from Anamoose and neighboring communities on other Mondays. Meals are served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We have a lot of people who drive through town and stop and ask if they can buy a meal,” said Shirley Schnellbach, president of the senior center. The center also provides take-out meals if someone is homebound.

Although the meals aren’t considered a fundraising venture, Schnellbach said, the center appreciates the support of local restaurants that close their doors on Monday.

Restaurant owners say they are happy to do so.

“All of us are trying to be really fair and make it work for all of us,” Rudnick said. “There’s a place for everybody. Everybody offers something different.”

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