By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Although their expertise is in stainless steel manufacturing, the father-and-son team of Brad and Ralph Millerbernd are taking on a new business venture, where they are quickly becoming connoisseurs of coffee and soft-serve ice cream.
Their education in the food industry began July 1 when Brad took ownership of the Roadhouse Coffee Shop in Winsted.
The Millerbernds are not quitting their day jobs at Millerbernd Systems, where Brad is president and Ralph is CEO, but have made customer satisfaction at the Roadhouse a definite priority.
“Millerbernd Systems is very busy,” Ralph said, “but my son wanted to rescue this place (Roadhouse), so I figured I would help him out. I am semi-retired and have some time.”
Both Brad and Ralph have been customers at the Roadhouse since it first opened, and knew the previous co-owners, Lisa Bayerl and Deb Olson, had been trying to sell the coffee shop for about six months.
On Memorial Day weekend of this year, Bayerl informed Brad that they had sold the business and all of the equipment in the coffee shop to someone in Bemidji. Although there were interested buyers in the area, no one had made an offer.
“I thought, ‘that just isn’t good for Winsted. We’ll have to shutter it up and have another empty storefront,’” Brad said. “I knew the shop had a good client base and a good product and that it would be a big loss to the city of Winsted.”
So Brad decided on the spot to purchase the business from Bayerl and Olson and keep it in town.
“At some point it will be up for sale again, and if someone is interested in operating it full time, that would be the ideal scenario,” Brad said. “But for the time being, it’s a great opportunity for us to learn a little bit about the retail side of the business and to provide some employment opportunities for some of the younger people in town.”
While many people were off enjoying the Fourth of July weekend, Brad and Ralph used the holiday to tackle a four-day remodel project at the shop.
“We took down the fluorescent lights to give it a warmer look which highlights the wall artwork,” Ralph said. “We also put new ceramic tile behind the cooking area and extended it by 6 feet.”
One of the main reasons for enlarging the work area was for the new soft-serve ice cream machine, installed last week.
Another new item in the shop is an electronic menu system.
“Having the menu on the screen like that makes it versatile and you can change it instantly, from breakfast to lunch, by just plugging in the different modules,” Ralph said.
Patrons of the shop will be happy to learn that the Roadhouse is extending its hours and will now be open seven days a week, Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This was good news for faithful customer Serena Krummel of Winsted.
“I have gone through, what is this, the third owner? I have gone through all of them and I want the Roadhouse to stay,” Krummel said. “The coffee is amazing. You can’t get coffee like this anywhere else. I work at AZZ Galvanizing and we also come to lunch here quite a bit and we bring our clients here.”
Another regular customer is Jerry Gray of Winsted who spends most of his mornings at the Roadhouse where he meets a few of his friends around 10 a.m. for breakfast and a chance to visit.
“It’s always been good coffee, good rolls, and I want to make sure I say something about the sandwiches. The sandwiches are fantastic,” Gray said. “My favorite is the turkey bacon ranch wrap.”
Two co-managers, Christina Strantz and Mandy Dammann, plan to carry on the Roadhouse’s traditional menu, but will be adding new offerings as well.
“We would like to go a little healthier route and more natural,” Dammann said, adding they will be working on a kid’s menu, featuring smaller-sized beverages and food.
“We will introduce items slowly and watch how they go over. For sure, a Ceasar salad and Ceasar wrap and see how people like them,” Dammann said.
The Roadhouse offers a hot and cold beverage menu with more than 20 selections; a breakfast menu which includes a number of baked goods, two kinds of breakfast sandwiches, and Belgian waffles; and a soup and sandwich menu which includes a selection of sandwiches, wraps, and soup of the day.
“We also want to really push the drive-through window,” Dammann said.
The drive through will become more functional, according to Brad, who would like to cater to customers on their way to work who don’t want to get out of their cars.
“We want to get an order board out there so they can order from their car prior to getting to the window,” Brad said.
Brad and Ralph took time to relax on a recent Saturday at the Roadhouse, definitely enjoying the experience of running a coffee shop.
“I have always been interested in operating a restaurant of some type,” Brad said. “I cooked for a lot of years at Bob’s Bay Club in Annandale while I was going to school. It got me interested in the restaurant business, seeing how it works. It was something I had always wanted to do. Anyway, this opportunity came up and I took it, but I think the big thing is that the Roadhouse is remaining open in town.”