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Smoke BBQ restaurant plans tentative June opening

Get ready for large joined smoked wings, boneless chicken wings hand-cut from scratch, pork belly burnt ends with fried rosemary, bacon by the slice, and sandwiches complete with shredded chicken, brisket or pulled pork.

Smoke, a new family barbecue restaurant, is almost ready to open for customers in Lonsdale. But before service begins, the new business needs the OK from the building inspector and health inspector.

“We want to make sure we’re up to their standards,” said Smoke owner Andrew Rasmussen, who bought the vacant building at 115 Railway St. SW in March. “It’s a little bit out of our control as far as an opening date per se, but we’re well on our way. Once the building plans get approved, we’re pretty much just tying up loose ends at this point.”

Rasmussen is no stranger to the kitchen and spent the last 13-plus years training with professionals, opening restaurants across the state, and managing kitchens. He learned fine dining skills from the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska and trained under the former owners of Granite City Brewery.

The newest restaurant in Lonsdale, Smoke, has a tentative opening date of June 12. Owner Andrew Rasmussen said he’s “humbled and overwhelmed and shocked by the support the community has already given.” He’s pictured outside the restaurant with his son, Rohen, wife, Lisa, and daughter, Valkyrie. (Misty Schwab/Lonsdale News Review)

For his biggest project, he trained at the Tavern on France in Edina, which opened the door for him to manage the kitchen at its sister company, Tavern Grill in Woodbury. While working as the kitchen manager of The Cove in Prior Lake, Rasmussen was asked to take over as kitchen manager of The Point, where he essentially wrote the whole menu. He’s also consulted the openings of Lakers Tavern and Pizza in Prior Lake, a farm-to-table restaurant called Fabled Farmer in Fergus Falls, and the woodfire grill Spitfire in Fargo, North Dakota.

After acquiring all this experience, Rasmussen considers opening a restaurant in Lonsdale, where he’s lived for seven years, “a no brainer.” He recognizes a lack of restaurants in the area catering to Lonsdale’s large demographic of 20- and 30-somethings, so he hopes Smoke fills that void.

And by reading community surveys, he’s discovered what Lonsdale residents want, in general, is a new restaurant and a sports bar. While Smoke won’t necessarily follow a sports theme, Rasmussen said the TVs in the bar will air sports games.

A complete remodel

Rasmussen and his designer, Ashley Johnson of A. John Designs, are completely remodeling the inside of the building that housed former restaurants Treats of Lonsdale and more recently Taste of Lonsdale until its November 2018 closure. He’s also working with a contractor, Curt Zins of Zins Company, Inc.

Johnson has worked with Rasmussen and his family for the past six years, merchandising for his father. As far as designing a building is concerned, Smoke is her first project.

Being a resourceful person, Johnson opted to use the fencing outside the building as trim for the inside, and she reused the old table bases and only replaced the table tops.

“It was actually pretty challenging at first,” said Johnson. “I had no idea what the building looked like when he called me … Every wall was covered in that old school colonial-looking wood. I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with this.’”

Johnson found a solution: using an acetylene welding torch, she burned all the walls of the interior and the ceiling. She has more plans for the ceiling, and the next thing on the list is installing the bar, tile backsplash and corrugated steel.

Designer Ashley Johnson of A. John Designs burned the walls and ceiling inside Smoke using an acetylene welding torch. Light fixtures are a work in progress. (Misty Schwab/Lonsdale News Review)

To reflect a “smoke shack” feel, the outside of the building, previously red and white, is now gray with orange shutters. Rasmussen credits his wife’s siblings, Tara, Lance and Todd, for “really transforming the outside” and helping build the light fixtures.

Food and service

Smoke’s menu is finalized, said Rasmussen.

Reinhart Foodservice is the food provider, and Mike Wallin of Lonsdale Country Market has worked with local farmers to source proteins amidst national plant shutdowns. Food aside, offerings include an extensive menu of Northeast style IPAs with a wide variety of hops, malts and grains. Aware of craft beer’s huge popularity, Rasmussen wants to make Lonsdale a destination with these menu items.

Rasmussen also looks forward to offering one of his favorite creations: soups. In the past, he’s made any soup from Italian sausage and caramelized fennel cream soup to smoked pork cheesy enchilada soup.

“For Christmas, instead of giving presents, I give soups,” said Rasmussen. “...These soups take me hours upon hours to make.”

For dessert, Cake Walk of Northfield will provide specialty items exclusive to Smoke, such as a salted s’more caramel cheesecake and cold smoked peaches coated with caramel.

By the time Smoke is up and running, Rasmussen said he ideally hopes to have four to give cooks and five to seven additional employees. But since the restaurant will likely start with curbside pickup before allowing customers inside, the employee ratio may start smaller, with three to four cooks and four to five employees in front of the house. His wife, Lisa, who has worked as a customer support supervisor and manager of the claims department for Healthpartners, will handle customer service at Smoke.

“She’ll be able to set the bar for the front of the house, always have bartenders’ heads on a swivel,” said Rasmussen of his wife. “I think she’ll do a great job.”

Shawn Cooper of Lonsdale, the sous chef who trained Rasmussen at Hazeltine National Golf Club, is one of the go-to cooks who will work alongside Rasmussen at Smoke. He’s also hired a couple beertenders already, who exhibit the knowledge and skills that meet Rasmussen’s requirements. He expects quality over quantity, he said, and will train “beertenders” to pinpoint specifically what the customer base wants.

Bill Lieske and Mandi Latzke are two of the hired “beertenders” at Smoke, which is scheduled to open later this summer. (Misty Schwab/Lonsdale News Review)

“I’m well aware of the hours that need to take place in order to succeed and succeed prosperously, and not cut corners,” said Rasmussen. “One of the things we’re not going to do is compromise our service and our food just because we want to open early. We’re going to take our time and make sure everything is polished before we even try to service our community.”

Lonsdale Chamber, EDA, gauges economic impact of COVID-19 on local businesses

According to a recent survey issued by the Lonsdale Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority (EDA), 39% of local businesses have a “return to work” policy in place and 36% are working on it, as the possibility of reopening businesses that have closed due to COVID-19 becomes more likely.

“As the chamber continues to advocate for small businesses, we urge Gov. Walz to consider a more rapid and equitable approach to safely open businesses of all sizes,” Lonsdale Chamber Executive Director Shanna Gutzke-Kupp wrote in her Chamber letter, which included survey results.

Chambers of commerce across Minnesota, including Lonsdale’s, signed a letter to Walz dated May 5, which urges him to “consider a more rapid and equitable approach to safely open businesses of all sizes.”

The letter reads: “As chambers of commerce, we stand ready to ensure our members are prepared to open — that they have instituted health and safety protocols for their workers and customers and have a preparedness plan in place. We are confident in their ability to do the right thing and are working with them, each and every day to understand and employ best practices. In fact, we believe if allowed, will do it better than their larger counterparts. It’s time to get Minnesota moving again, in the safest way possible for employees and customers, while protecting businesses of all size. Minnesota’s long-term economic future is counting on it.”

The full letter can be accessed at bit.ly/3cfXVdp.

In Lonsdale, 73% of survey participants said their business is considered essential while 27% said their business falls under the non-essential bracket. Participants included grocery, retail, automotive repair, housing, financial, livestock, bar and grill, liquor, chiropractic, hardware, floral, education, government and food services.

Half of survey participants said their businesses are open with regular hours, while 36% have limited hours and 14% are closed per government orders. Most businesses, 73%, have not needed to lay off or furlough employees, but 27% have needed to do so.

The survey also asked participants a number of questions on federal/state assistance plans and how their businesses have utilized these services. In Lonsdale, 95% of businesses received information about the available federal or state assistance programs and 86% understand the process of accessing and utilizing the programs. About 45% of businesses have not applied for any assistance, but 27% applied for federal assistance programs and an additional 27% applied for both federal and state assistance programs. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they already received funding, and 27% said they’re still waiting to receive funding.

Overall, survey respondents said there isn’t much more assistance the Chamber of Commerce, EDA or city of Lonsdale could provide for them in response to COVID-19. One commenter asked to receive information on local grants, another asked to have their water bill waived, and another commented they’d like to see these community partners work with the governor to get their business reopened.

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Rice, Steele see steep uptick in COVID-19 cases

Rice and Steele counties, like the state of Minnesota, have again seen a steep rise in COVID-19 cases.

In Minnesota, the total confirmed COVID-19 cases hit 9,365 Thursday, up 786 from Wednesday, the largest single-day jump in cases. It continues a string of days of accelerating case counts as testing for the virus intensifies. Steele County had 10 additional cases from Wednesday to Thursday, Rice had 19. Since Thursday, Rice County has had 36 more confirmed cases.

Steele County now has a total of 41 positive cases. The age range of cases is teens to those in their 70s. Rice’s numbers are higher, with 53 cases in all. The youngest is 12, according to Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst. The oldest is 89.

A Steele County business is experiencing a cluster of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a release from Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron. Public Health is working in partnership with Minnesota Department of Health, health care partners and the business to address the situation and to try to contain further spread.

Purfeerst attributes much of the jump to increased testing and guidelines that allow for those with less severe symptoms to be tested. Area businesses who are screening employees each time they arrive for work is also contributing to the higher number of confirmed cases, she said.

Those affected are asked to isolate themselves for two weeks and until symptoms subside for 10 days, with no fever for three days. While most people are able to recover at home, those who are older or have underlying health conditions may require further medical assistance in a hospital.

While Purfeerst understands the urge to gather, she underscores the importance of taking precautions when going to the store or getting together with friends.

“We are social creatures,” she said. “We like to congregate. But we’re going to have to change our practices if we’re going to slow the spread.”

Both counties are seeing more cases in younger people, a change Purfeerst believes is a result of workplace screening. And while the virus tends to hit older people and those with pre-existing conditions harder, there’s no way to predict how individuals will react to the coronavirus.

“People can be asymptomatic and potentially spread the illness and not even know,” she said, making the case for taking precautions and using good judgment.

“We want people to exercise, to be out and about — of course, we have beautiful weather. You can get together and stay 6 feet apart.”

Stay safe

The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread primarily by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also spread when people touch surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.

There is much we do not know about this virus. However, there are things we can do to protect ourselves, our family members, our neighbors and our vulnerable populations. Do this by taking the following actions:

• Wear a cloth face mask when you are out in public; especially when out getting groceries, supplies or medications. The mask will not protect you but will protect others in case you are carrying the virus unknowingly.

• If you are currently carpooling to your work or other places, please consider other options. If you do not have any other options wear a cloth face mask for some protection.

• Practice social or physical distancing from others by keeping a distance of 6 feet between you and others out in public.

• If you have an underlying health condition or are an older adult, take precautions now. Consider limiting any visitors to your home. Consider asking others to assist you in getting the things you need, such as groceries or medications so that you do not have to go out where there are groups of people.

• Do not gather in groups. Find new ways to conduct your daily business. Make use of technology and use phones, FaceTime, Skype and other ways to communicate

• Stay home if you have cold or flu-like symptoms and avoid close contact with people who are sick. Try to separate other people in your household from any members that are sick.

• Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or into your sleeve, and then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom or before eating. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

• Avoid touching your face – especially your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces

• If you have symptoms of a respiratory disease (these include fever, coughing, muscle aches, sore throat, and headache), you should stay home for at least 10 days, and for three days with no fever and improvement of respiratory symptoms—whichever is longer. (Your fever should be gone for 3 days without using fever-reducing medicine.)

• Please seek healthcare for any other conditions you may have.

Hospitals and clinics in both counties are open and ready to help.