Craig Beemer was no stranger to business when he bought the Oasis Café in Stillwater back in 2008. He had studied finance in college, run a local marketing service and later an import business based in Hong Kong. His background is likely why he keeps such neat records of every sale he's made since Day One.
"I figured I couldn't screw up a business that had been around since 1957," Beemer said, referring to the Oasis' past life as a truck stop and bait shop on Main Street south of downtown Stillwater.
Beemer's records show annual gross sales at the diner rising from nearly $350,000 in his first year to almost $1.3 million in 2017. There's also anecdotal evidence of the diner's success; on weekends, the lines can go up to 30 people long, Beemer said.
To better accommodate its customers, the Oasis briefly closed in November to begin work on an expansion project. About half the diner remained open while the other part was rebuilt.
The Oasis was fully back in business in late January, with additional seating, a new floor, updated booths and a bar.
The locals had "a lot of anxiety about it," Beemer said. "This has been a part of the community since 1957."
That's why, he said, the interior designer worked hard to maintain the diner's retro style. New booths were custom made to look like the old ones, minus the stains and holes.
The area where Beemer and his designer had some real fun was the bar. If there was any room left for his business to grow, he said, it was in liquor and evening dining. He said he made only about $20,000 last year in liquor sales.
"It wasn't a huge part of our business. It was a few Bloody Marys, a few beers for people with burgers," he said.
Beemer got the most help in planning his bar from Joe Ehlenz, who co-owns the LoLo bar chain in Stillwater, Hudson and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Ehlenz introduced Beemer to Jake Zimmerman, who designed the Oasis' new drink menu.
"I hesitate to refer to him as a bartender," Beemer said. "He's more of a mixologist. For Jake, it's really more of a science."
Beemer had worked at a bar in college, but "it wasn't this," he said, gesturing to blue bottles of orange flower water and walnut liqueur, along with a stack of cocktail recipe books behind the counter.
Large photographs printed on metal sheets hang from the walls in the new dining room, provided by local artist Judd Sather. There's one of a regular customer, a bearded man enjoying a burger and a Farm Girl beer, Beemer said. Across the room, there are three pictures of a girl drinking a pink cocktail.
"My daughter," Beemer said.
The wood finish on the front of the bar is quite a bit older than the restaurant itself. Jim Barton, who owns the construction firm that rebuilt the Oasis, salvaged 140-year-old white pine from the home of Stillwater boxer Stanford "Buster" Lassen after Lassen died and his house was demolished.
"Jim saves this wood for what he considers to be special projects that tie back to the community," Beemer said.
Much in the new Oasis reflects the work of other local businesses. The bar has seven Minnesota brews on tap, along with nitrogen coffee from River Moon Coffee in Stillwater. The cafe's windows are from Andersen Corp. in Bayport.
Beemer said that designer Amanda Maday was responsible for most of the design work. Before striking out on her own, Maday was with Shea Design, which worked on Minneapolis restaurants like McKinney Roe in the Wells Fargo building near U.S. Bank Stadium.
"What you see in here is the result of hiring really talented people and letting them do what they know how to do," Beemer said.
Emily Allen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.