Imagine dining at a mansion where four U.S. presidents have stayed, sitting at a table where the Queen of Romania sat — all while devouring a plate of Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite wild game.

The historic Cedarhurst Mansion in Cottage Grove is known for its lavish wedding receptions and thematic parties, but starting next month it will open its doors to the public for elegant monthly dinners. In an effort to raise money for the home’s costly preservation, the mansion’s owner teamed up with a catering company to serve high-end meals at a hidden gem in Washington County.

“Cedarhurst has been known as the big reservation place,” said True Thao, co-owner and general manager of the mansion. “But we want it to be a everyday thing also.”

Thao recently teamed up with Seth Brittain of Distinctive Catering and Events. The two are creating various multicourse meals that will be offered each month with hopes of eventually doing it weekly, Brittain said.

On Sept. 25, the mansion will host a presidential wild game dinner. At about $50 per person, chefs will prepare a five-course meal with different wild game that Roosevelt liked, Brittain said. The dinners will be served in a grand ballroom that is adorned with gold detailing and crystal chandeliers.

“Every month we want to do something completely different to showcase the mansion in different ways, but also, too, to showcase the menu in different ways,” Brittain said.

Built in the 1860s, Cedarhurst was home to the widely known Minnesota lawyer, Cordenio Severance. The mansion underwent renovations in the early 1900s by Cass Gilbert, an architect who designed the Minnesota State Capitol and the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

Thao and his brother bought the house in 2001. He said he and his family came to the U.S. as refugees from Laos. Thao, who currently runs his own counseling center in St. Paul, said he and his brother, who is a physician, were searching for a commercial building to use as a medical clinic when they stumbled on Cedarhurst.

“When the Realtor brought us here I said, ‘Holy cow why is this out in the middle of nowhere?’ ” Thao said. “And then we bought it, so we really did not have the vision of all of these things until later.”

The white-columned mansion, surrounded by cornfields in Cottage Grove, has a southern charm. The 26-room, nine-bathroom home has a 100-foot veranda with twin porticos. There are spacious landscaped lawns with lilac hedges and a vibrant flower garden.

Each room in the mansion tells a story, Thao said. The European-style rooms are embellished with wallpapers, paintings and photos of the mansion’s previous owners along with imported pieces of art, most of which are new.

The Oriental room is covered in a wallpaper depicting drawings of a pagoda. Thao said when his family purchased Cedarhurst, the talk of the town was that they were going to make it the biggest Chinese pagoda in the state. So, he told the mansion’s interior designer — Ed Hawksford — to find a pagoda-patterned wallpaper.

“I told Ed, ‘Put the pagoda up there so we can keep the pagoda story,’ ” Thao said with a laugh.

The 12,000-square-foot mansion needed significant renovations when Thao bought the place. Every few years the home undergoes repair work, he said, ranging from a fresh coat of paint to installing a new bar top. Additional revenue from the newest endeavor will be used to maintain and preserve Cedarhurst, Thao said.

The mansion has played host to a queen and high government officials throughout the years, including presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Thao said he is excited to open the mansion to the public and continue to use the mansion as it was originally intended, as a place for entertainment.

“We want Cedarhurst to be an integral part of the community,” Thao said. “I think it’s one of the gems in this town.”


Blair Emerson is a Twin Cities freelance writer. Her e-mail address is