Dave Peterson compared a recent award his restaurant received to catching a 20-pound walleye.
It’s that big of a deal.
Anyone familiar the owner of Hardee’s knows if he’s not behind the counter helping customers, he’s in his boat reeling in some of Rainy Lake’s finest. So when he compares the award to a record-breaking catch, it must mean something great.
The International Falls Hardee’s last week received the Wilber Hardee Operations Excellence Award. The award, named after the restaurant chain’s founder, is given to the franchise company that best exemplifies an entrepreneurial spirit, vision, dedication, leadership, teamwork and community involvement. Of the about 2,400 Hardee’s locations in the country, only one is chosen annually for the designation.
“It is a big honor,” Peterson said, adding he owns the restaurant with Jason Hamre. “Other people in the company said this is the award you really want... I’m very honored. This is just as much a part of the community of I Falls as it is me.”
In addition to the Wilber Hardee award, the International Falls location also received franchisee of the year award for exemplary performance. It is the eighth time the local restaurant has received the honor, and this year marked the second year in a row.
To say last week was an exciting one for Peterson, his employees and customers is an understatement.
Talking about himself isn’t something Peterson favors. In fact, loyal customers who reached out to The Journal after learning of the awards, followed the story suggestion with cautionary remarks.
“Dave is too humble to blow his own horn, but I think they deserve some special mention in The Journal,” Norena Guerard wrote.
While she was right, a noticeably humbled Peterson sat at a table located in the best Hardee’s in the nation, and said the honor was about much more than him. His name may be on the bottom of the plaque, but he said it is his employees who should be listed.
“Their names should be on this award,” he said, growing emotional.
With that, he handed The Journal reporter a handwritten note listing his core employees.
“They need to be mentioned,” he said, adding a few have been with him for more than 30 years.
The note included Lisa Strong, Penny Harris, Cindy Peterson, Chris Anderson, Roberta Dunbar, Marianne Larson, Jason Anderson, Hannah VanHale, Shania Larson and Bev Walla.
“My employees make the restaurant what is,” he said. “I’m truly fortunate to be part of this team.”
Making an award
When Hardee’s restaurants are evaluated for the Wilber Hardee award, several factors are taken into consideration.
Gene Moser, Hardee’s franchise business consultant who was previously involved with the International Falls location, said selecting the award’s recipient is based on guest feedback, drive thru service time, sales and transactions, among other things.
Moser spoke highly of Peterson, noting he excels in all areas of the business.
“It was a pure pleasure to work with Dave and his team... couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” he said of the award.
Moser commented on Peterson recognizing nearly every guest who walked through the door of the restaurant.
“He knew everybody,” Moser said with a laugh.
Others would agree.
Gathered around the table Tuesday morning, was a group of regular customers, who paused chatter of the daily events to boast about Peterson and the Hardee’s team.
The group gripped matching coffee mugs, sporting the Hardee’s logo, noting they’re the ticket to complimentary refills.
“We’ve broken several mugs,” Jan Steiner said, as others nodded in agreement, some sharing their own stories of shattered ceramic. “They just give us a new one when that happens.”
The group comes every day around 7:30 a.m., and joked they try to leave before the dinner menu is displayed. Not only do they enjoy each other’s company, they said they genuinely like the food, the coffee and of course, Peterson.
They recalled memories of the years spent at Hardee’s including parties, unofficial assigned seats and being recognized by a group of anglers from out of state.
Behind the counter, Peterson grinned as he likely overheard some comments the group made.
Peterson couldn’t deny 2020 has been a tough year for everyone, including those who work at Hardee’s. Coming off a financially successful 2019, the beginning of the year was shaping up to follow the same path, if not exceed it.
“In January I was up 13 percent, in February, I was up 9 percent,” Peterson said. “Through March 13, I was up in sales over 2019.”
Then the pandemic hit.
“Just after that happened, my sales just dropped,” he said of having to close to in-person dining to help slow the spread of COVID-19. “But over time, things started getting better.”
He mentioned loss of business because the Canada border closure. Not only were local Canadian customers not coming in, the tourism Hardee’s usually benefits from wasn’t what it has been in the past.
“This month, my sales are finally up,” he said Tuesday. “The local people have been so supportive... Our customers are so amazing.”
When discussing the effects of the pandemic, it was a member of the coffee group who summed up the experience for those around him.
“I kept going through the drive thru to get biscuits and gravy every morning,” Mel Ramsey said. “Dave and his staff take care of their customers, so we take care of them.”
Two International Falls dentists with more than 70 years of experience combined, are trading pulling teeth and filling cavities for traveling and pulling fish from Rainy Lake.
Dr. Steven Takaichi and Dr. Tom Herzig, both retired this month after more than 43 years and 30 years, respectively.
And while one of the dental locations will stay open with a new dentist taking over, the other has a sale sign sitting in the front yard.
“We’ve had (the practice) listed with a dental transition placement company for almost seven years and they weren’t able to find anybody,” Takaichi said, adding he was officially done today.
At Shorewood Dental, a practice Herzig built in 1998, the new dentist is Dr. Lucy Corrin, formerly Lucy Nevanen, a 2008 Falls High School graduate.
“I’m so excited to be back in town,” Corrin said, who this summer moved from Bigfork back to International Falls with her husband, Ladd. “We always wanted to move home and the timing was right.”
Unique stories follow Corrin’s move back to Borderland.
For one, her mother, Denise Nevanen, works at Shorewood Dental, and will now be employed by her daughter.
“I couldn’t have done this without her,” Corrin said, as Herzig smiled off to the side.
“I’m waiting for the first time she slips and calls her mom,” he said.
In addition to the mother-daughter work relationship at the office, Corrin’s father, Paul Nevanen, is the director of the Koochiching Economic Development Authority, which spearheads the Your Ticket Home campaign.The effort targets people within the ages of 25 and mid-40s who have a connection to Koochiching County in some way. Whatever it is that previously brought people to the area hopefully built an emotional connection that would encourage a permanent return, is the idea behind the campaign.
Nevanen said he was overjoyed to see an opportunity open up to bring his daughter a bike ride away.
“This is what we envisioned with this campaign,” Nevanen said. “We talk about opportunity and we talk about recruitment... this is a perfect example of the right timing.”
Ladd is able to work from home, which removed occasional challenges of finding work for a spouse when one job opportunity opens up.
“People being able to work from home provides other opportunities for people,” Nevanen said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and challenges to overcome, but I truly believe this is a place people want to relocate back to. We have a lot to offer here.”
After finishing dental school in 2018 and working at a practice in Bigfork for two years, Corrin knew she wanted to return to the community she and Ladd call home.
“I do feel really lucky to have a job that we can come back here,” she said.
Herzig said he feels fortunate, too.
The dentist has been in practice for just over 30 years and when he and Corrin started having serious conversations about her taking over the business about a year ago, he knew the timing was right to step back.
“I saw the opportunity and I think (Corrin) did as well and I think it’s going to be a very nice fit,” Herzig said.
And while Corrin is now seeing patients, Herzig isn’t completely out of the picture. To help with the transition, he plans to assist a few days a week.
“I think the transition with her and me and the patients makes sense,” Herzig said. “We’re fortunate it works out that way... if that wasn’t possible, Lucy would have been just fine on her own.”
Closing up shop
While Herzig and Corrin work on the change in ownership, Takaichi is clearing out this Third Street location.
The practice, which he has owned since 1977, officially closed its doors today.
“We’ve been at it for 44 years now and it’s just time,” he said.
Attracted to Rainy Lake, when Takaichi first came to International Falls, he said he went to the bank, got a loan, purchased some equipment, rented a space and “started cold.”
There were nine other dentists in the area when Takaichi first went into practice, and noted the increase in workload as there have been fewer and fewer dentists in Borderland.
“It’s always been really busy,” he said.
He talked fondly of the strong rapport with his patients, noting he’s treated up to five generations of some families.
“Retirement is bittersweet for myself and the patients,” he said.
With the retirement of Takaichi and Herzig, the need for dentists continues in the area, Takaichi said.
While slightly frustrated he was unable to find anyone to take over his practice, despite many efforts, he said he anticipates the workload to be overwhelming.
“The dentists we have in town will do very well,” he said. “But there’s not the capacity to take care of everybody who needs to come in.”
In addition to Shorewood Dental, there is now one other dental office in International Falls. Dr. Christine Gelo is the full-time dentist at Lucachick Dental Office owned by her parents, Drs. Gary and Coleen Lucachick.
Corrin and Herzig said Shorewood Dental is always accepting new patients.
“I hope people will continue to come here to see Lucy and extend the same kindness they did to me all these years,” Herzig said.
Herzig and Takaichi both said they plan to enjoy time on Rainy Lake with the extra time on their hands, but said they’ll miss their patients and staff.
“I will miss patient interaction the most, and seeing my staff everyday,” Herzig said, adding some of his staff have been with him since the beginning. “I’ve been blessed with an amazing staff.”
Takaichi offered advice for the freshman dentists and those who may relocate to the area in the future.
“Do excellent work and treat people well,” he said. “Just show up everyday and do the best you can.”
Hockey Hall of Fame
Dean Blais inducted
No action was taken Monday by the International Falls City Council to hire a fire marshal that would investigate and enforce housing regulations in the city.
Fire Chief Adam Mannausau told the council the position has drawn four very good candidates, but asked the council to defer to the next council meeting to hire someone.
Mayor Harley Droba agreed that more time is needed to ensure rental licenses and other funding sources are in place that will pay for the non-union position's annual salary of $67,237.
The council also attempted to clarify the position, which they described earlier as a blight enforcement position, after hearing comments from community members.
Droba said the fire marshal position will "make sure our housing is up to snuff and housing stock is good."
"The position is not about cleaning up blight, but to make sure we have good housing in our community," added Councilor Joe Krause.
Councilor Brian Briggs said the position would also ensure the safety of buildings that house businesses in the city, as well.
The council said the money for the position's salary will come from when the city charges landlords a fee to have their houses inspected and permitted, which allows renters to know the place is safe.
Earlier attempts at implementing a rental fee policy stalled years ago.
Droba said his goal is to have the position "lost to attrition in five or six years maybe, but we are so far behind because we let things go on for so long."
Councilors said they did not want taxpayers to pay for the position, so would rely on other sources to pay for it.
"I don't want to hire fire marshal anymore than anyone else," Droba said, but added that it is needed.
The council will meet in a special meeting at 4 p.m. Monday to consider the 2021 preliminary budget and levy.
In addition that day, the council will hear the second reading of an ordinance to award a contract to low bidder Wagner Construction Inc., at $218,457, for the 2020 Pleasant Avenue water main improvements project.
The council last Monday heard the first reading of an ordinance to allow recreational and and special vehicles on city streets.
City Administrator Ken Anderson told the council the action would repeal existing restrictions and allow citizens in the community to operate on city streets golf carts, and Class I and Class II ATVs, snowmobiles, among other vehicles - provided state laws regulating the use are followed.
Krause initiated the idea, and Droba credited him for following it through.
A second reading is expected at the next regular meeting, and the ordinance takes effect after it is published in the legal newspaper.
The council also heard the first reading of an ordinance adding per meeting pay, or a per diem, for the mayor and councilors.
Anderson said the additional pay means that members of the council will receive $150 for a full day meeting; $75 for half-day; and $45 for any meeting of less time.
Droba said doing the business of the city does not pay well, and as mayor he receives $350 per month, councilors each receive $300 per month, and each have a one time annual contingency of $700.
He said the important and hard work the council does is not covered by the monthly salaries.
The council also heard from resident Daniel Grover who asked the council to use some of the $460,000 the city received in federal money to use for COVID-19 costs incurred by the city to do a citywide free COVID-19 test for residents.
Droba said he would follow up with local medical providers and others to see if it could be achieved before Nov. 14, the deadline to use the money.
Grover said his medical insurance does not cover the test and he believes it would be valuable to find out just how many people in the city have the virus.
The council also:
Police are asking anyone with information that can assist in an investigation into an attempted child abduction at about 10 p.m. Sept. 5 in the area of 1700-1900 block of Fifth Avenue East in International Falls.
The victim, who is safe, reported that a white man attempted to get her into his older model grey or cream-colored van/minivan. The suspect is described as average height, chubby, with short brown hair His clothing was described as black sweatpants, black sweatshirt, and brown work boots which were worn and muddy.
IFPD Capt. Mike Kostiuk said law enforcement was notified about the incident in full on Monday.
"The victim experienced trauma and did not relay the events until then," he said.
Anyone with information should contact the Koochiching County Law Enforcement Center by calling 911.