Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, December 28, 1998

Legacy continues under new ownership at Ranch House

By LUIS E. PUGA

While legacy is a word that should not be used lightly, the Hollywood Ranch House has been around since the '30s.

Since then, it has gone through a lot of changes from a small pit stop with outdoor plumbing and hot dogs. Its most recent change is the new ownership of Rod Heldt and Kevin Garlock.

Previously, the owners were Helen and Bruce Johnson, who had the Hollywood for 17 years. Before them was Fred Wurdell, who had it for 41 years. The Ranch House has been sitting along Highway 7 for quite some time.

So why the sale?

"It's very tiring," said Helen Johnson of the restaurant business. "There's a time where there is a road block; you lose enthusiasm and you find yourself not being able to go any further. And it's time for somebody with new ideas."

One can see why the Johnsons are tired. They have remodeled every year except for the last three.

In its history, the Ranch House began by serving 3.2 beer and had one small room with two booths.

Bruce Johnson said, "Most people just headed on down the highway. I felt there was a chance for growth here."

Grow it did. Now, with pool tables, salad bars, game room, large dining rooms, a burger bar, and more, it's hard to tell that the place used to be a convenience store and gas station.

Garlock appreciates the work that the Johnsons put in. "They've done a heck of a nice job," he said.

While the new owners are inheriting a lot of years, they are not strangers to the Ranch House.

Heldt is Helen Johnson's brother. A native of Lester Prairie, he's been tending bar there for 16 years, full time for seven and a half.

Garlock's been coming around the Ranch House for the past 15 years and has gotten to know the Johnsons well for the last three. Garlock and Heldt are simply taking their long friendship and making it into a partnership.

So what does all this mean for the Ranch House?

Not much, actually. The new owners seem to know a good thing when they see it.

"It's basically not much of a change except for ownership," said Heldt. The menu, the name, the decor, and the staff are all going to be kept pretty much the same.

The only addition is that Heldt and Garlock will be bringing in some bands from time to time, the first being High Horse in January for a welcoming party. But even that was something the Johnsons did up until two years ago.

The main reason not to fiddle with the formula: it's not broke.

The Ranch House has a good reputation that the new owners recognize. "You ask around. You never hear a bad word about the place."

Such a reputation, which Bruce Johnson said stretches to the Twin Cities and back, is gold in a business built on reputation.

But a simple philosophy can sum up why that reputation stands. Said Helen Johnson, "You treat people well. They treat you well."

Will the Johnsons miss the Hollywood?

"There will be aspects that you miss a lot. We'll miss the people a lot, the employees a lot. There are parts of owning your own business that you won't miss at all," she said, giving a knowing look to Garlock.

He listens, but is happy to have his own business. He refuses to say where he worked before this, but says "electrical" with a slight groan.

Heldt's happy to have the place, too. He calls it security.

Given that the restaurant gets patrons from the highway, the golf course, snowmobiles, pool leagues and more, he could be right to call it that.

As for Bruce and Helen Johnson, they're going to move on to new adventures, according to Helen.

Bruce will be going into sales and Helen will spend some time with the children before she decides what's next.

According to Heldt and Garlock, she can stop by anytime.


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