Dining at the Delta Diner

deltadiner

Reason #568 I love living where I live – the Delta Diner. I first dined at this hidden gem after a winter hike several years ago. The buzz about this diner in the middle of nowhere had been building and I knew I just had to make the trip to Delta to check it out. Um yeah. Amazing. Great atmosphere, super friendly service and one of the most creative North Woods menus I’ve seen. The Scandinavian in me loves the super thin, flavor packed pancakes and the carnivore in me drools over the fresh ground sirloin patties served up on Burger Monday. Add in handmade sweet treats, such as the caramel apple pie and life’s complete. All of that said, when I set out to do an article on a local investment group recently, I had no idea I’d stumble across another factoid that demonstrates just how amazing the Delta Diner is to my stomping grounds.

While interviewing Washburn Mayor Scott Griffiths about an initiative he’s involved in encouraging folks to pull their money from Wall Street and invest in Main Street, he suggested I speak to Todd about how he worked with the local community to drive his business forward. While the two initiatives are unrelated, I followed up and wasn’t too surprised to learn about the folks who wanted to invest in Todd’s vision. The article ran in this month’s Business North but in case you missed it, here’s a rerun of what can happen when you commit to a project you believe in–others can’t help but follow your dream with you.

Next time you find yourself in Bayfield County, make time for the meal of your life at the Delta Diner, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

To get there: Delta Diner is located at 14385 Cty. Highway H in Delta, Wisconsin. Truth be told, if can find Delta, you can find the Diner. From the East or West on Highway 2 turn south on H in Iron River.

One other notable – if you’re in the area, be sure to check out the Rainbow Lake Wilderness area 4 miles north of Drummond, Wisconsin. The Delta-Drummond road is a great way to access the North County National Scenic Trail within this area which encompasses 6,583 acres. It also just so happens this was one of the first wildernesses designated back in 1975. The first few snapshots of this slideshow are from the trail–yet another overlooked gem in Bayfield County.

Grassroots Group Aims to Invest in Main Street

A grassroots Chequamegon Bay area group has a vision of creating options for northwestern Wisconsin residents to invest their money in Main Street versus Wall Street.

The local investment group consists of passionate individuals and regional experts who are helping navigate and research the concept. One member, who first introduced the idea to the area after attending the Building Local Ecnomies (BALLE) conference in Washburn, is Mayor Scott Griffiths. He said the movement is about providing opportunities for both local businesses and investors.

“It would be a way for someone to go to invest in a business they know and believe in versus sending their money away” to Wall Street, he said.

Unlike a loan, the goal is to find creative (and legal) ways to make equity investments versus loans to help a business grow. By accepting such investments, recipients don’t have to worry about interest payments up front but can grow their business while the investor gets a return based on how well the company is doing.

While the concept sounds simple, finance regulations are not. As a result, the group is studying its available options.

“We’re also trying to determine who and where the businesses are that could benefit from this type of investment,” Griffiths explained, and how much they’d be willing to invest.

He envisions the process will ramp up as people learn about it and the group has successes to share with the community. And, while participants can’t take credit, one local business is experiencing significant success with raising capital through its local customers.

Success in Delta

Delta Diner opened its doors in 2003. The East Coast diner sprung up practically overnight in the middle of nowhere, or in the owner’s belief, the middle of somewhere – Delta, Wis., a dozen miles south of Iron River.

“Every time I drove by that spot with the broken down cobblestone building, I felt something should be there,” owner Todd Bucher said of the site.

After doing his homework, Bucher learned that from 1923 to 1972, the site was something special. The broken down cobblestone building was actually the old Delta Store, which included a gas station, groceries, post office and tavern. “It was the center of the universe for folks living in that area.”

Today, it’s home to the authentic East Coast diner. Bucher recognizes Delta isn’t exactly a population center, but says his focus is creating a unique destination dining experience to which folks will drive. So far, he seems right.

It wasn’t soon after he opened his doors that customers recognized how unique the dining experience was and approached him to see if there was a way they could become a part of his dream. While he appreciated the gesture, Bucher genuinely believes that until you prove your concept the financial risk should lie with the owners.

As time went on, business exploded. Successful as it was, to reach the next level he needed to built it out and maximize efficiencies. However, after 24 months of exploring finance options, he discovered traditional lenders just weren’t interested in his business model.

It focused on slow growth. After opening, he removed about 30 percent of the seating so they could focus on the customer experience and ensure they were bringing in the right type of customer. He knew that if he built an experience you couldn’t get elsewhere, people would make the drive, which would bolster sustainability. The banks didn’t agree.

“They looked at the fact that we were walking away from revenue and said, ‘you’re doing what?’”

Frustrated by his experience, he worked with a consultant to create a five-year business plan and explore other finance options. It turns out that state statues allowed him to take on a number of LLC members who were more than investors. These folks would actually own a percentage of the business.

Bucher knew people were interested, so he found creative ways to let customers know if they wanted to get involved, it had become an option.

“We didn’t want to impose on our customers,” he explained. “We didn’t want to imply that we want your money but instead that the door is open if you’re interested.”

Working with his brother’s ad agency, he organized a subtle campaign displayed within the diner that let interested parties know something was happening. If they reached out to Bucher, he steered them to a password protected video that explained his vision for the diner and what the equity involvement would entail. If folks were still interested, they could attend an informal meeting to learn more.

“We were looking for certain types of people to get involved,” he said. “We weren’t selling it as ‘Hey, this is a gold mind investment’. But instead, we were going after people passionate about our business model.”

Once again, Bucher experienced success. By the time the campaign was over, he had recruited 22 new LLC members to his business. They own 40 percent and invested $400,000 towards the diner. They attend annual meetings and vote on important business matters. And, while the return on their investment might take longer than is traditional, Bucher believes it will come.

“From an organizational standpoint, we are a good business with strong financials. But these people also have a personal or emotional connection to our vision. It is a different type of return.”

His investors have changed the future of the diner.

“The impact for us is huge,” Bucher said. “We have a larger, more efficient facility that we paid for in cash. This allowed us to do what we otherwise couldn’t have done.”

Looking ahead, Bucher is ramping up for an exciting couple years of growth and new experiences. One way he’s enhancing this destination dining experience is by offering a series of dinner events that range from a Blue Plate Lecture series that “treat the stomach and feed the brain” to themed meals and outdoor barbecues and bands.

The diner also plans to add e-commerce in the next 12 months to serve far away customers who might be craving the red beans and rice or homemade chipotle paste but can’t make the drive to Delta because as much as the diner is in the middle of somewhere, it is still a long distance from most places.

Spring Thaw – Lost Creek Falls

Courtesy: Cornucopia.net
Courtesy: Cornucopiawisconsin.net

I remember it like yesterday. It was spring, 2005 and I had just met this odd duck online named Steve. After dining over Chinese food and cheap beer we determined we liked each other enough to hang out again. Since it was spring thaw and Steve claimed to be an outdoorsman/forester, he suggested we hike to this remote waterfall that is off the beaten path but particularly spectacular this time of year.

An avid hiker and even backpacker at the time, I was delighted by the prospects of heading out on this adventure to something I had never even heard of. On a Saturday morning in April, we made the drive in his ’98 Honda Civic to a remote parking lot next to a cemetery near Cornucopia. It seemed a bit odd to me at the time and I started to wonder just how much do I know about this strange man that’s taking me to this remote location. It turns out that perhaps Steve didn’t exactly know where said place was either.

A snow covered ground and brown and green canopy of trees engulf us. The further we go into the woods, the more my feet squish and break through piles of snow leaving my feet damp and my leg muscles aching. Soon, my visions of murder are replaced with the calm that can only be discovered in the North Woods while one focuses on putting one foot in front of the other. As time progresses, I notice Steve looking around more than usual. I immediately become suspect because while I respect a man who takes in the outdoors, I can also immediately point out a man who is lost. We soon hit a clearing where Steve casually pulls out a satellite map and his compass and looks left and right… and then left and right again. “Hm,” he says.

I begin to panic. I, of course, have been paying absolutely no attention to where I was going. And, since I didn’t drive and was new to the area, I had no clue if we were next to civilization regardless of what way we walked or would spend the rest of our weekend wandering around hoping to find some snippet of life.

Since this was only our second date, I didn’t want to be rude so I refrained from going Erickson on him demanding answers. Instead, I casually question if he knows where we are. The repeated looks around the clearing are answer enough. After what seemed like eternity, he simply folds up the map and heads back into the woods. “I think I know where we are.”

My options are limited. I can either wander the woods in hopes a different random stranger finds me. Or, I can take a leap of faith and follow this stranger to this hidden gem in Bayfield County. I follow my gut, or in this case Steve, back into the dark forest. Soon we hear the trickle of water followed by a deep ravine filled with water, also known as Lost Creek Number 1. As we follow the water that has left its mark in this County Forest upstream the promise of a waterfall grows louder.

The waterfall itself is not that large, maybe 15 feet or so. But, in the height of spring thaw, the water volume is quite amazing. There is also something serene about how quiet the world is around the rushing of these falls. Unlike other falls, this one is out of the way, often overlooked and not easily accessible, allowing you to experience it alone. With no nearby roads, the sounds of traffic and city life disappear.

As soon as we arrive, Steve is ready to move on. Frankly, my wet and sore legs are as well. We make our way back to the car, this time not needing the map. But, something in me said there was something special about this day. I’m not saying I fell in love. But, similar to the river cutting its way into the ravine, Steve made an impression on my heart that day. Now, eight years later, that’s a spring Saturday I’ll never forget.

Unfortunately, I was playing it too cool at the time to snap photos of our first daylong adventure. I hope to return this spring, should it ever arrive in northern Wisconsin. I’ve also been told the fall colors are spectacular in this mix of hardwood and evergreen forest. Stay tuned for photos or find time next time you are in Bayfield County to venture out on this hike where perhaps magic can happen for you, too.

To get there: The route to Lost Creek Falls has changed since I first ventured there in 2005. Today, you can take Highway C south of Cornucopia 1.5 miles and turn right on Trail Drive. There, you will find a marked trail head parking lot. The falls is a solid 25-minute walk over uneven terrain.

Start Your Year at Blu!

blu
Blu Ice Bar at Grand Superior Lodge near Two Harbors, MN.

Winter has a way of getting on my nerves. Long. Cold. At times boring, especially since I don’t excel at winter adventures. Luckily, I’m not alone. And towns and businesses all over the place are trying to keep things interesting in hopes folks like me will suck it up, bundle up, venture out and spend money and maybe even have some fun along the way.

Blu at the Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors was the first of ice bars that are popping up all over the northland. I had the joy of visiting it back in 2011. Two thumbs up to fun staff, creative drinks (and old-time favorites for the hubby), gorgeous artwork carved within the ice, and of course, my favorite color–Blue! I must admit, once you drink a couple of shots and sit on an icy bench, there aren’t too many reasons to linger around. That said, it got me out and was a great excuse to stay on the North Shore for a night. Even on the coldest of days, Lake Superior is still a beauty to look at!

Ice bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Ice bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Bartenders works his magic at Blu Ice Bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Bartenders works his magic at Blu Ice Bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.

Blu bar isn’t the only spot where you can get an icy cold beverage along the North Shore this winter. In Duluth, Little Angie’s is jumping on the ice bar bandwagon and upping the ante with a fire and ice theme. While I haven’t been in the bar, I’m a huge fan of their food so I imagine I’ll be having a drink or two there as well this winter.

Bucketlist and an unusual but special tree

This past fall I had the opportunity to check another item off of my bucket list. For years, I have wanted to visit the Witch Tree. The tree, which is also called Manidoo-giizhikens, or Little Cedar Tree, is located near the Canadian border.

The area where the tree sits was once open to visitors, allowing for what is potentially the most photographed tree along Minnesota’s North Shore. I first learned of the tree after seeing photos of it by Travis Novitsky.

There was something impressive and humbling about the twisted trunk embedded in an exposed rocky shoreline subjected to the gales of Lake Superior that intrigued me. After doing some homework, I learned that the tree was first written about back in 1731 by French explorer Sieur de la Verendryne. While not a history buff, this little snippet of the tree’s past made me want to photograph it even more.

Unfortunately, not everyone respects nature. Due to vandalism issues, the tree is now on tribal land and is off limits to visitors unless accompanied by a local Ojibwe band member. However, I discovered on a warm Friday morning this past fall, they are quite accommodating and willing to take you out there to photograph the tree and share the historical significance of this tree. For that I am thankful.

The trail is short and unmarked. Due to the rockiness of the area and the fact that it is sacred land, one cannot get up close to the tree from land. Thus, while I have checked one item off my bucket list, I’ve added another: seeing the Witch Tree from water.

The Hike

(I first wrote this a year ago while hiking near Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, MN. But, on this blustery fall day, I cannot help but share again.)

The anticipation was killing me. For months, I had patiently watched the calendar waiting for that brief moment in northern Minnesota where fall comes to life in a vivid, rainbow of colors. As the calendar ticked down to my day off, the gobs of storm clouds grew larger than life. Soon, warnings were out, communities in southern Minnesota were flooding, and the sky was black. For most, this would not be the ideal hiking conditions. Add to this, my husband’s stern warning that should I destroy my new Canon 5D by hauling it through the rain I was not getting a new one. Together, this should have been enough to hold me back. But, the stubborn Fin in me refused to back down. Mother Nature doesn’t wait for the skies to clear. Plus, a gray, rainy day means solitude, right?

The morning goes smoothly. A gorgeous drive along Heartbreak Ridge, accompanied with a perfectly brewed latte and Blueberry Scone from the Coho Café. And then, a quick glance at the map in the trailhead parking lot.

My hike starts out simple enough. Up and down, round the colored bend. Within minutes my underused hiking boots are covered in mud. I look up only to be blinded by needlelike mist piercing my face. Soon, the up and down just become up. Having glanced at the topography map prior to jumping on the trail to Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, Minnesota, I knew what I was in store for. But, the lines always seem a lot less intimidating from the comforts of my car.

One hour, two hours, mist evolving into a steady rainfall, muddy trails transitioning into trails underwater… I’m starting to have second thoughts. Seriously Mother Nature, logic says as you climb higher, the drier the trail should be, right? Soon, the only break in the squishing of my boots is me cursing under my breath as the wind whistles by my face. Having chosen to do this hike solo, I have nobody to blame but myself. What am I thinking?

And, just as the gas in my tank was running out I have one of those moments. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where you are huffing and puffing, trying to catch your breath, and then you look up and for just a moment, the entire world stands still. Suddenly, everything is put in perspective. Suddenly, I realize how small I am in the grand scheme of things. And, looking out over the vast, untouched countryside, I can’t help but be in awe of how fortunate I am to experience this beauty—even if it is just for a moment. The moment isn’t perfect. The sky is far from blue and the fog removes the crisp color I had planned on seeing. But, in this haze everything in life seems clearer. One foot in front of the other, and eventually you reach your summit. Is it exactly what I had expected? Absolutely not. It is better. The hike down doesn’t seem nearly as bad.

I am 99.9999% sure I will not climb Mount Everest, hike the Poles, or save Polar Bears. It is unlikely my experience on this day will have any impact on anything other than my knees and my poor husband listening to my pathetic whining when the Ibuprofen wore off. But at this moment, nobody can take this beauty away from me.

Fall is an extremely busy time of year. The commitments are endless. But, we live in this place for a reason. Find time to take advantage of it. The past few years, I’ve stumbled across multiple reports about a decline in young people connecting with the outdoors. A Minnesota State Park survey shows the median age of users is on the rise faster than the median age of the state. The Department of Natural Resource conducted focus groups only to find that young people have their lives just too planned out to find time for visiting State Parks. Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers are aging. And, some speculate that there is some correlation that this decline is loosely connected to the growing popularity and reliance on technology.

Today, I challenge you to prove “some” wrong and get outside. It doesn’t have to be a four-hour hike in the rain. It can be as simple as turning off your Blackberry, lacing up your tennis shoes and taking a stroll through the park. At the end of the day, life’s commitments will still be there, but perhaps you’ll be able to tackle the day-to-day with a clarity that can only be found in a hazy fall day where heaven and earth intersect in a grandiose view of what matters in life.

Fall’s Final Hurrah – UP of Michigan

High winds have taken a toll on fall in northern Wisconsin. So, I opted to head east to the Porkies this week to see what’s left of fall in the UP of Michigan. The Porcupine Mountains never cease to amaze me. Grandiose, humbling and frankly beautiful. Someday, I’d like to take a week to just throw on the backpack and log some serious miles within the Michigan wilderness. In the meantime, here’s a few shots of some popular hot spots at the park. (Please note: I did refrain from posting a pic from the Lake of the Clouds overlook. It wasn’t easy).

Fall Colors in Northern Wisconsin

The forecast says snow is on the way. I’m personally in denial, reveling in the kaleidoscope of color I had the opportunity to immerse myself in just a few days ago.

A lot of folks sometimes question why I live in the middle of nowhere. I could provide yet another diatribe about why live in the northwoods is amazing, but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s just a few from last weekend’s adventure.

Enjoy!