As the snow continues to fall and some people spend more time indoors, cabin fever can begin to set in. Next week, however, things will be heating up outside in Owatonna as the town will be alive with celebrations for the Bold and Cold Winter Festival kicking off Monday.
Owatonna Parks and Recreation is bringing back fan favorite activities and introducing some new events during the Winter Weekend Out including snowshoeing, sculpture building and more.
Recreation Supervisor Thomas Gorycki said a few changes have been made to the annual sculpture contest, including smaller blocks to carve and adding a colorful twist with food coloring.
“We decided to add some smaller blocks this year because I think some families wanted to participate but were a little intimidated by the large blocks,” he said. “So we added some four-foot blocks that will still be fun to see and a little bit less daunting for people to tackle with carving.”
Veteran snow sculptor and reigning champion Christina Spencer said she and her family plan to compete in the competition once again this year, and was happy to see the smaller blocks available to “encourage new families and individuals to try making a snow sculpture.”
The public is also encouraged to attend the Rock on Ice event at Morehouse Park for music, ice-skating and a bonfire on Saturday, Jan. 28, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Skates will be available for rent at the chalet.
The Medallion Hunt, sponsored by Owatonna Motor and the Owatonna People’s Press, is returning this year, beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 24. The winner of the hunt will receive $500 in Chamber Bucks. Clues will be published in the paper each day, as well as bonus hints on Owatonna Motor’s website. People can sign up to have the clues emailed to them every day at 6 a.m. at SouthernMinn.com/Bold.
The Steele County Historical Society is one again bringing back the Soup Dinner remaining with a carry-out only model as they have for the last couple of year since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Having people pre-order is a great way for us to know how much soup we will need,” said MaryAnne Higgins, SCHS tour and events manager. “Those who want a cup of soup will have to all in their order by 4 p.m. on Thursday.”
Bundle up for a brisk stroll through downtown and visit all of the unique retailers, gift shops, boutiques, salons, and more by exploring our small businesses and shopping local. Many stores are offering discounts storewide for the weekend as a part of the Bold and Cold winter festival.
MainStreet Director Lisa Cochran said she is excited for all of the festivities happening throughout the week and into the weekend but like many others, she is looking forward to seeing what the sculptors come up with in the ice sculpting competition.
“I am not very artistic and I’m always in awe when I look at them,” she said. “The sculptures are always a highlight for people and that’s just one thing that will draw people downtown for the festival.”
On Sunday the community is encouraged to head down to Brooktree Golf Course to strap on some snowshoes and walk around the course. Shoes will be available for use during the event.
New this year, following the snowshoe walk there will be a luminary walk leading from the Brooktree Clubhouse down to Mineral Springs Park, about a mile-long walk and will be guided by a city official.
“I think this will be a welcome event for many people to get out of the house an do something new and see a different side of the city,” Gorycki said.
New restaurants are coming. Businesses are expanding. The state-of-the-art high school is on the brink of opening to students.
More and more people are taking notice of the community nestled on the intersection of Highway 14 and Interstate 35. The town is growing quickly, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
But, why Owatonna?
That is what the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism was set out to learn through this week’s Chamber Growth Breakfast. With special guests Ari Kolas — president of Hamilton Real Estate Group, the development group behind several Owatonna apartment complexes, the downtown hotel and the redevelopment of the 200 block of North Cedar Avenue downtown — and Craig Korvela — restaurateur who will be bringing Roma’s Italian Eatery into the former Jerry’s Supper Club location — those in attendance were able to hear from an outside perspective why people are both paying attention to Owatonna and investing in the community’s future.
“My investment group saw how noticeably Owatonna’s downtown has changed,” said Korvela, who was the last of about 20 different restaurateurs to tour the vacant Jerry’s Supper Club on the corner of Cedar and Vine. “It’s obvious the community really has its focus in the right spot.”
“Owatonna is about to explode,” he continued. “Now is the time to get involved.”
Korvela and his investors also own and operate the restaurants Redemption in Faribault and Reunion in Northfield. With a large Owatonna clientele base at both restaurants, Korvela said it was only a matter of time before they made the move to the community.
Because there had been a “beloved” Italian restaurant once upon a time — Andiamo — and a community survey through Engage Owatonna showing most survey takers wanted to see another Italian place in town, Korvela said it made perfect sense to bring exactly that into the old supper club space.
“My past experience involved cooking at a four-star Italian restaurant in the Black Hills, so this will really brings me back to my roots,” Korvela said. “That restaurant was called Roma’s, and it closed during COVID, so I thought it made sense to bring that name back as a way to honor a restaurant that once helped out this young restauranteur.”
While the Hamilton Real Estate Group has had a presence in Owatonna for a number of years, starting with its first project construction the South Pointe apartments in 2018 on 18th Street, Kolas said it was clear what the local residents truly cared about was getting a new restaurant in town.
“I remember eating at Jerry’s back in the day some 20 years ago, and it’s a shame that this beautiful business on a great corner has sat empty,” Kolas said. Jerry’s officially closed in May 2012 due to economic decline. “Everyone said they wanted a restaurant, but it took having a little vision to go inside and see what it could be.”
Korvela and his investors had that vision, and working with Mohs Contracting they are diligently to make that vision a reality. Korvela said guests can expect a door on the corner as well as a door on Cedar, leadinging in to an open room for the main dining with windows covering most of the front and 12-foot ceilings featuring an antique drop to mimic the old tin of when the building was first constructed. There will be additional “cozy spots” with booths and tables, a bar on the south side of the building with 16 seats and a lounge area, and an “overall elevated design” to go along with the elevated menu and dining experience.
“The one thing you can’t mimic is the smell,” Korvela said. “When you walk in and smell the garlic, that will hit different.”
Korvela said they are hoping to have the restaurant open and serving customers by mid-June.
As for the second floor of the building, Korvela said they looked into making an event center, but the project to do that effectively would cost well over $1 million. For now, he said the second floor will work as a storage space for the HVAC system and potentially office space.
While there has been much concern throughout the area, state and country over a lean workforce, both Korvela and Kolas said they aren’t concerned about that creating an obstacle for Roma’s.
“It just isn’t that bad here, and people are coming back to work,” Kolas said. “The synergy in downtown and throughout Owatonna is great — just look at the selections you currently have in restaurants. Having variety will grow more opportunities and create more creativity.”
“Don’t stop,” Kolas said about the movement Owatonna currently has. “You are rolling in the right direction, and we are going to continue to develop in Owatonna.”
The Chamber Growth Breakfast series, taking place on the third Thursday of each month from September through June at Torey’s, is sponsored by Cole’s Electric and Fastenal. The events offers special presentations from experts around the state and locally that directly impact the business community. It’s available to Chamber members.
Look for information coming from the Chamber for details on the February event.