New restaurant brings French Quarter ambiance to Brooten
New Orleans French Quarter jazz isn't the first thing one would expect in Brooten. The town of about 650 people -- most with Scandinavian or German heritage -- is in the heart of the Bonanza Valley farm fields. Just barely in Stearns County, Broo...
New Orleans French Quarter jazz isn't the first thing one would expect in Brooten.
The town of about 650 people -- most with Scandinavian or German heritage -- is in the heart of the Bonanza Valley farm fields. Just barely in Stearns County, Brooten hangs on the edges of Pope and Kandiyohi counties.
Grain trucks rumble through town during the week and residents go to church on Sunday.
But John O's -- a new dinner restaurant and lounge that opened this month in Brooten -- has jazzed up this small farming town. With a decor and ambiance that captures the classic French Quarter of New Orleans, a menu that puts it firmly in the fine dining category and live music featured on Saturday evenings, John O's could be one of the most unique restaurants and entertainment experiences west of Minneapolis.
"We knew it had to be different for people to come to Brooten," said Ingrid Fauske, co-owner of John O's, which is located on state Highway 55 in the town's main business district.
The exterior and interior of the old building have been renovated to look like the small shops of the French Quarter. The menu includes items like saffron shrimp risotto and portabella panino. And, during its grand opening, which is scheduled for Saturday, the jazz combo Funky Gumbo will be the featured entertainment.
That's a far cry from the pork commercial sandwiches and juke box county music that's more commonly found in rural Minnesota restaurants and bars. Also unique are the restaurant's two business partners.
The town's 85-year old patriarch, John Bohmer, teamed up Fauske, a petite young woman with seemingly endless creative energy.
Both shared the vision to restore the town's old theater that sat vacant in town for nearly 40 years. Bohmer provided the financial resources for the John O's project. Fauske provided the labor. They are equal business partners.
Bohmer is a live wire who looks and acts at least 20 years younger than he is. His grandfather started the Brooten bank, which Bohmer later took over, in 1894. Throughout the years Bohmer himself started several businesses in Brooten, including the bowling alley and Brutanza Engineering in 1972 which made Brut snowmobiles. He's also invested in numerous ventures in town and said he's written five books about the history, economy, "characters" and war veterans of Brooten. He writes a weekly column in the newspaper, the Bonanza Valley Voice.
Bohmer said he'd been poking around for several years, looking to do something with the old movie theater, which at one point in history had been called the Avalon and had burned down twice -- on Dec. 9, 1912 and Dec. 25, 1948.
He had thought about turning it into a museum to display his collection of antiques, including the town's first barber chair, dentist chair and telephone operator station. He said it was "a shame" the building was empty but he just hadn't found the right "fire cracker" to team up with on a project. Then he met Fauske, who was caught peering in the windows of the old theater building one summer day in 2005 and wondering why the building was empty.
"John heard I was shopping around," said Fauske.
They got the keys for the building, took a walk through and discovered a mess.
"It was awful," said Fauske. There was mold, water damage and a hole in the ceiling. All the theater seats were bolted to the sloping floor.
The two worked together on a plan to turn the theater into a restaurant and lounge and began digging into the mess. "We scrubbed and cleaned for six months," said Fauske, who recruited family including her two teenage sons, Justin and Austin, and neighbors like Mark Weber.
"She was a real tiger," said Bohmer, describing Fauske's determination and hours of labor.
Carpenters started work in January of this year.
In the early spring, Fauske was tapped out of energy and ideas for the project, so Bohmer sent her off to New Orleans for a few days to get a little rest and inspiration. She stayed in the French Quarter, which had recovered from Hurricane Katrina by that time.
She came back home with photos, ideas and a street sign from New Orleans' famous Bourbon Street that's part of the restaurant decorations.
Some of Bohmer's antiques are part of the decor in the bar.
The original stage, theater screen and curtains are part of the restaurant and provide the performance area for artists, which have included pianists and vocalists that provide background dinner music.
Minnesota Vikings games are projected on the big screen on Sundays. There are plans to show old movies, like Casablanca, in the future.
During the summer, before the restaurant was open, local teen bands were invited to perform on stage. Bands, their friends and families came from local towns like New London, Spicer and as far away as Fargo and St. Cloud.
"They feel like it's big time," said Fauske, who's excited to offer youth an opportunity to perform. The youth performances are suspended during the school year but will start up again next summer.
Word about John O's is traveling fast and they've received requests for business Christmas parties, convention tours and Red Hat Society gatherings. Reservation and walk-in diners have been increasing at the restaurant, which has seating for just over 100.
The chefs are fine-tuning the menu, which includes different entrees featured each week. The restaurant's homemade desserts have been a huge hit, said Fauske.
The restaurant is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and on Sundays when there are Vikings games. The lounge is open 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday and on Sunday during Vikings games.
The project "has been good for our little town," said Bohmer. "It makes good use of an old building." Other new businesses are also opening in town, including a new hotel and a fish market that features specialty fish like smoked salmon and lutefisk, cheeses and crafts.
"The town's waking up," said Fauske.
Restaurant hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and on Sundays when there are Vikings games.
The lounge is open 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday- Saturday and on Sundays during Vikings games.
For information call 320-346-4330.