New shop on Scenic blockBruce Wright has been involved in quite a few different businesses during his lifetime but his only prior experience in the food industry was back when he was a teenager. “I ran the Scenic Café for a summer,” Wright said. “I did all the cooking, peeled all the potatoes.” That was back when it was a drive-in, complete with car hops.
By: Sonja Peterson, Lake County News Chronicle
Bruce Wright has been involved in quite a few different businesses during his lifetime but his only prior experience in the food industry was back when he was a teenager. “I ran the Scenic Café for a summer,” Wright said. “I did all the cooking, peeled all the potatoes.” That was back when it was a drive-in, complete with car hops.
Now, a few miles north, but still on the Scenic Highway, he’s getting back into the food business. They opened Gill’s Cheese and Smokehouse about two weeks ago. It’s a family operation that spans three generations: Bruce and his wife, Joyce, are owners; his daughter-in-law, Kendra, is the manager; and her daughter, Brooke, is an employee.
The building was constructed in 1999 as a registration center for the Wright’s lakeside campground just outside of Knife River. About six years ago they sold the campground to Odyssey Resorts, and it’s now the site of Larsmont Cottages.
They were left with six acres that included the registration building across the highway from the lake. “We sat around last January and tried to think what to do with the place,” Bruce said. They’d had no luck selling it and needed to put it to use. It was their son, Chris, Kendra’s husband, who suggested turning it into a smokehouse. It opened two weeks ago.
The smokehouse’s rustic exterior was built to resemble an old Forest Service building. Inside the décor remains woodsy but with a dash of modern Scandinavian elegance. Various gifts, sauces and dips are scattered on shelves and windowsills, and two refrigerator cases hold smoked fish, pickled herring and artisan cheeses. The refrigeration hums quietly in the background as tourists and locals wander in, trying out the artisan cheeses and sipping coffee. It’s a cool respite from the summer heat.
They don’t have their own smoker yet, as they had to limit start-up costs in the tough economy. But they hope to buy one as soon as possible. They get their fish from local producers in Duluth and Superior. They also sell artisan cheeses “which we’re almost out of just now, they sold like crazy,” Kendra said.
They also make sandwiches and wraps fresh on site. “The roast beef sandwiches are really selling, people love them,” Kendra said.
The business has four employees in addition to owners Bruce and Joyce.
Bruce hopes his business will be a nice addition to the community along the Scenic Highway. He’s a longtime Larsmont resident and sees the highway as growing in popularity. “It’s becoming more of a destination highway,” he said. He believes the more businesses to attract tourists down to the highway, the better. “There’s room for everyone.”
He’s a strong supporter of tourism in the area because he believes that it also attracts other businesses. “Somebody will come up to visit and say, hey, what a great place to start my small business.”
The Wrights also hope to attract area residents and want to stay open through the winter if possible. “I was surprised by how many locals we’ve had patronizing us already,” Bruce said last week. The Wrights also plan to sell as many local products as possible.
They have plenty of dreams for expanding the business: adding on to the small building, keeping the business open later at night, offering a wider variety of products, and perhaps using other parts of the six-acre property for miniature golf or jogging/walking trails.
They plan to have a grand opening celebration in August as they gear up for the fall tourism season.
And who’s Gill? “Gilbert Anderson was like a grandfather to me when I was a young boy,” Bruce said. Anderson owned several cabins by Lake Superior where Bruce would later run the Big Blaze Campground. “We use to clean his cabins for 10 cents a cabin,” he said. The name is also a play on words, referring to a fish’s gills. “You can take it either way or both ways,” Bruce said.
In Your Business
Gill’s Cheese & Smokehouse
On Scenic Highway 61 about a mile north of Knife River.
Owners Bruce and Joyce Wright sell a variety of smoked fish, pickled herring, artisan cheese, assorted dips and spreads, and gifts.
The Wrights once owned the Big Blaze Campground that was across the road from the new store. It was sold in 2004 and became today’s Larsmont Cottages complex. The store is the former registration office for the campground. Gill’s opened at the beginning of July.
Four employees, plus the owners.
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