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Taking risks pays off for Trapper Pete’s owners

Owner and chef Gary Peterson chops vegetables for soup in the kitchen at Trapper Pete’s Steakhouse and Saloon. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com1 / 2
Owner and manager Cindy Peterson holds a freshly made bacon cheeseburger in the kitchen of Trapper Pete’s Steakhouse and Saloon. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com2 / 2

While many people have heard of trappers being a part of the local settlers, nobody can remember hearing of Trapper Pete.

That is, until they get to the city of Scanlon, which literally translates to “little trapper.”

“Trapper Gary just didn’t sound right,” said Cindy Peterson, owner and manager of Trapper Pete’s Steakhouse and Saloon in Scanlon, referring to her husband and partner in the business, Gary Peterson.

They noticed the common theme in the decor was rustic and featured traps, as well as part of the history of the area and decided it was the perfect name for the new business. Then they hired someone to write up the story of a fictional trapper named Pete who could have lived a century ago.

Trapper Pete’s celebrated its sixth anniversary in July.

The building had been empty for a year before the Petersons bought it, so they had to build their customer base up from scratch.

The Petersons had previously owned a bar and grill in Duluth for several years, but jumped at the chance to buy the vacant building in Scanlon and be closer to home.

“We happen to drive by it a few times and thought it was in a great location,” Cindy said. “When we came in to tour it, it was just beautiful. It’s a beautiful building; it has that northwoods feel, which we love.”

The building had been rebuilt from the original, outdated supper club by previous owners Shelley and John Robideaux and Jamie and Liz Langenbrunner, but the Petersons had to put a new roof on and pour some new footings since they purchased it.

The banquet room is the original bar entrance and the saloon is where the ballroom dance hall was in the original Golden Gate Supper Club.

Next they had to figure out a menu that would appeal to local patrons, buy inventory, decorate and, of course, hire an entire staff.

“We put our blood, sweat and tears into it,” Cindy said.

The Petersons originally saw the restaurant as more upscale, including linen napkins. They soon discovered customers wanted something more relaxed, less of a formal feel.

“You have to accommodate your customers,” Cindy said, explaining they adjusted accordingly and provided a menu with a range of price options.

The new menu was a hit.

“The best seller is the Conspinaci Burger — it's a burger served open-faced on Texas toast with a sauce over it — it's something we developed when we first opened,” Cindy said.

The spaghetti is from an original Italian recipe the Petersons brought with them from their last restaurant, the Congress.

“It was made by a true Italian family,” Cindy said. “It takes three days to make.

“And it’s very, very good,” she added.

Trapper Pete’s won Readers People’s Choice award for Best Appetizer both in 2012 and 2014 for their steakhouse nachos, which are served on a bed of hand-cut steakhouse fries.

The Petersons are also proud of their award-winning burgers. They were voted “Best Burger in the Northland” in 2011, 2012 and 2013 by the Duluth News Tribune.

The Petersons shop at local farmers markets when they are in season because they prefer to use quality, fresh produce. They also recycle as much as possible and have recently began composting to become more environmentally friendly.

Between them, the couple oversee all of the business. Cindy works the front of the house, which includes the bar and dining area, while her husband works the back of the house, which is the kitchen area, getting the catered meals together, and doing the maintenance.

Gary is usually done after 10 hours and can be home in time for supper with their two daughters, Morgan, 13, and 11-year-old Sammi, who loves to cook.

Cindy usually pulls 14- to 16-hour days by the time she finishes, which includes marketing and the books.

She was originally working elsewhere, but after struggling to find a reliable manager she decided to quit her day job.

“I had a full-time job up until three years ago,” she said. “I got to the point it was hard to be an absent manager, I was interviewing and interviewing for a new manager when I realized nobody has the vested interested that I have.

“It was scary, very scary — that’s when we [added] catering,” Cindy added. “I had to justify putting all of our eggs into one nest [and] quitting my job. I secured a catering contract, then I quit my job.”

They cater to both assisted living and group homes, and have contracts with five day-care businesses for lunch.

The Petersons are looking to continue growing their catering part of the business.

“I can see us taking a few more on,” Cindy said. “The next thing I can see is us bringing someone in to help me.”

Trapper Pete’s also does general catering such as graduation or Christmas parties.

“If you don't take a risk you don't get ahead either,” said Cindy.