When developer Corey Burstad opens Lora on June 18, the 40-room hotel promises to be a transformative project for downtown Stillwater.
Located on the southern edge of downtown, the ambitious undertaking features three stylish (thanks to ESG, the Minneapolis architectural firm) food-and-drink operations.
Feller, the hotel’s 100-seat restaurant, will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily. The adjacent bar, the Long Goodbye will focus on craft cocktails, wines and local beers (the name is a droll reference to bundled-up Minnesotans, clutching their CorningWare casseroles and unable to end conversation and walk out the door). Made is the hotel’s coffee and organic juice bar.
All three are under the tutelage of chef Sam Collins. A native of the Ham Lake area, Collins was bit by the restaurant bug at age 14 when he landed a line cook job at a local pizzeria. His studies at Le Cordon Bleu concluded with an internship at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., and a brief stint in the kitchens at the top-ranked Wheatleigh hotel in Lenox, Mass.
Eight instructive years at Murray’s (“They were wonderful to me, and I never would have left but I wanted to do my own thing,” said Collins) led to Burstad’s Elevage Management Group, which operates T-Box Bar & Grill in Ham Lake, the Village Pub in St. Anthony Village and Blaine’s Bricks Kitchen & Pub and the Roadside.
Feller — a feller is a person who cuts trees, a nod to Stillwater’s illustrious lumber milling past — will start with a fairly small menu, said Collins.
“We want to grow into our pants,” he said. “Besides, I’m a fan of smaller menus. I like focus.”
Collins is a lifelong hunter, and he plans to incorporate that interest and skill set into his cooking.
“I haven’t purchased any meat for my household for a decade,” he said, rattling off venison, wild boar, duck, rabbit, quail, mourning dove, grouse and other favorites. There won’t be wild game on the Feller menu.
“But we’ll feature anything that’s in season and grows here,” said Collins. That means quail brined with Surly Furious ale and lacquered with a honey reduction, a bison carpaccio, pork-venison knockwurst (“My family has been making venison knockwurst for generations,” he said), smoked chicken liver mousse on rustic bread, grilled sturgeon (“Because that’s what’s in the river,” he said), a smoked trout BLT, grass-fed beef cheeseburgers, a spread of local cheeses, and more, including an emphasis on foraged ingredients.
“I’m looking forward to getting into the kitchen and turning on that first pilot light,” he said.
The site, still enveloped in a flurry of last-minute construction details, is the former Joseph Wolf Brewery, a four-building collection of brick and stone buildings — the earliest dating to the late 1880s — that’s tucked into the side of one of Stillwater's many steep hills.
How steep? One of the city’s most popular (and recently remade) public stairways is adjacent to Made (and its Main Street patio), a 115-foot vertical climb that draws hundreds of climbers and runners on a daily basis.
“We hope to cater to those thirsty people,” said Burstad.
Deferred maintenance was the theme of the historic complex, which required a substantial renovation.
“All the floors are level now,” said Burstad. “Every time I walked through the place, all I could think was that it could be so much more than what it was.”
The brewery’s caves, accessible through doors on the hotel’s first floor, will be incorporated into the project in a later phase.
The new St. Croix River bridge proved to be a catalyst for Lora, since it routes bothersome heavy traffic off downtown’s Main Street.
“I don’t believe we could have pulled off the project without it,” said Burstad. “No one wanted to sit in line with a bunch of semi-trucks at the top of the hill for 45 minutes, waiting to come into town.”