A-Pine is all part of a bigger picture
Tradition is a big part of Rick Beyer's life, and the A-Pine Restaurant is only a small part of it.
The Beyer family was a restaurant family. It all started with a great-grandfather who opened a hotel, bar and meat market across from the Great Northwest Railroad in New Ulm in 1911. As is often the case, that restaurant became a family affair. Beyer's great-grandfather, grandfather and great-uncles ran the business, which was called Beyer Brothers Grocery and North Western Hotel.
When his great-grandfather left the business, he passed it on to his son, who passed it on to his son, Beyer's father.
"The hotel went away with the passenger trains, but my dad expanded the bar and got rid of the groceries and added a steak house. Then it was Beyer's Bar and Steak House. It was in the family for 61 years, I guess," Beyer said.
Beyer's parents sold the business in 1972, before he ever had the chance to work there, but that didn't stop Beyer from becoming a restaurateur.
"I always had dreams of that (restaurant ownership) because it was kind of my roots. That's what my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father had done," Beyer said.
Of course, he started small.
"When I was 15 I started working at a Country Kitchen. I started cooking there. When I was a senior in high school I was an assistant manager and did that until I married my wife (Leah). Then they built a new Perkins restaurant in New Ulm and I was hired on there as a manager," Beyer said.
Beyer continued to rise through the ranks. He moved on to manage a Perkins Corporate restaurant in Burnsville.
"It was basically the same responsibilities, just a little bigger operation and faster pace," Beyer said.
While working with Perkins Corporate, Beyer was searching for a restaurant of his own.
"We came here for the sole purpose of taking over the A-Pine. So, my wife and I had talked about having our own place for a couple of years ..." Beyer said. "My father-in-law saw the A-Pine listed for rent in the Minneapolis paper. We thought that would be the perfect situation, not having any money to buy anything."
Beyer had just enough money to pay for the first month's rent and buy the inventory from the store. They moved into a mobile home behind the restaurant, and for a while they faced rough roads. All their money was tied up in the restaurant and raising two kids.
"We just didn't make any money. It's a good thing we were young and dumb because it was really a challenge at that point," Beyer said.
Beyer said there were times when money was tight that he considered getting out of the restaurant business, but he had the right support to keep going.
"There were a lot of trials and tribulations in the early years of building a business and trying to get it up and going. There were a lot of times I thought about getting out of the business. I stayed with it and I think one of the things that really aided my longevity in the business is my wife's support in the whole thing," Beyer said.
Beyer also said long-term employees kept the business running strong, including a server who has been with the business for 23 years and a main cook who has been with him for 18 years.
Beyer is all about long-term history. Sept. 1 marks the 30-year anniversary of Beyer's ownership of the A-Pine. Coming soon after is the 18th year since Beyer opened the gas station next door, and 2015 marks the 50th year of operation for the A-Pine business, which had multiple owners before the Beyers, but always had some constants.
"It's always been known for chicken. The special recipe has been handed down through ownership, so it's the same recipe, spices and mixture that's always been here. The equipment that cooks the chicken has always been here. It hasn't changed. The pressure cooker we use is the same piece of equipment we used when we got here," Beyer said. "It is amazing. That piece of equipment has got to be 40 years old and, knock on wood, we've never had a lick of trouble."
It's the A-Pine's "frozen time" atmosphere that makes it special.
"You have people that come in and say, 'My grandpa used to bring me here,' or 'My dad used to bring me here,' and, 'I used to come in here as a kid.' I hear a lot of that. People stand here and look around and say, 'It's just the way I remember it.' It's kind of like a trip back in time for some people," Beyer said.
Beyer prides himself in the long-term relationship his restaurant has with locals and seasonal customers alike. It's all about the tradition.
Beyer has no plans to leave the restaurant; however, there is a chance it could eventually belong to his children. He didn't allow them to work there when they were young, but his son and daughter both started in the restaurant business, and his daughter still works at a local restaurant and has shown interest in the family business, proving the pinecone doesn't fall far from the tree.