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For Spicer trio, the past business failures at the site now home to Blue Sky are simply circumstance

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business Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SPICER -- The place is the Bermuda triangle of restaurants.

New businesses full of passion and energy go in, only to be inexplicably lost soon afterward. Among the missing: old relics like Shbooms, followed in brief succession by G. Michael's, the Harbor Inn and Game Time Bar and Grill.

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Perhaps it's the building's location on the outskirts of town that accounts for past failures. Or maybe it's the natural ebb and flow of a seasonal destination like Spicer. Perhaps, even, other-worldly forces are at play.

Whatever it is, partner and chef Mike Kueppers of the location's newest arrival, the Blue Sky, thinks he has the solution, and it lies in what he refers to as "four walls marketing."

"If you really concentrate on your four walls and what's inherent inside these four walls, the word will get out," he said.

Kueppers is one part of a trio that plans to make the Blue Sky a full-on dining, drinking and aesthetic experience.

He said all three partners bring something essential to the mix; the combination of which he believes will make the restaurant and lounge a permanent fixture among the eating and drinking establishments of Spicer.

Partner Chris Madden watches over the bar, with its selection of "ice cold beer, fun cocktails, and good wines." Bill Donner's specialty is in providing great customer service. His wife, Deb, gives the place its urbane yet accessible décor.

And then there's Kueppers, who brings to the restaurant a trained chef with a passion for food that can call itself food -- familiar, but not afraid to assert itself.

"A big word for me is 'flavor,'" he said. "I want fun and very accessible."

Kueppers started off at culinary school in Scottsdale, Ariz., working in the area as a chef at two five-star restaurants. He later moved to central Minnesota, and worked as head chef at the Green Mill in Willmar for more than seven years. Last year, he and friends, Donner and Madden, started talking. Noting their respective talents, they discussed starting a restaurant of their own. In December, that dream became a reality.

Kueppers said that despite the natural trial and error period that all new businesses go through, he was pleasantly surprised with the level of interest in the restaurant, even in the depths of winter, when Spicer is notably less active.

"We have exceeded our expectations," he said. "I can't tell you how excited I am about the support we've had from the community."

Central to the success of the restaurant, said Kueppers, will be to make it a year round destination. No business can survive on three vibrant months followed by a long meager off-season, he said, so the intention of the partners from the start was to make the restaurant a destination for locals and tourists alike.

So far, he said, it's working, and he's optimistic that business will pick up even more in the days ahead.

"We expect fall to be even more vibrant than this summer," he said.

Still, the location's less than fortunate past looms in the background. Spicer city clerk LaNae Osmond has seen it go from one owner to the next over the years, often with no explanation as to what went wrong. She has some ideas of her own, though.

"I don't know, I think the lake is kind of a draw for people," she said of other nearby competing restaurants on Green Lake. "Some people sort of said if you could see something out the window, then it would have been nice."

But, she said, "I always liked going there no matter who owned it,"

Kueppers isn't fazed by the location's past, however, saying that the restaurant's food and atmosphere will speak for itself.

"If you offer great food, fun drinks, cleanliness, people will come," he said.

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