WATCH NOW: New Schoolhouse Restaurant Owner Adds New Features | Business
WILTON – Two decades after opening in a former one-room school built in 1868, the countryside-themed Dorset Valley Schoolhouse Restaurant & Bakery east of Wilton is still best known for its homemade pies and fry Friday night fish.
But Rick Gruen, who bought the property and business near the Elroy-Sparta State Trail last December, and his wife Deb Kroll and general manager Amy Robertson have started adding new things.
For example, Dorset Valley Mercantile opened in August in part of a neighboring building. â€œHe sells old things, new things and crafts,â€ said Gruen, such as housewares, fabrics, pumpkins, organic vegetables, bread, honey and maple syrup.
Penny Chambers opened her Legends Barbershop & Salon in August in another part of the same building next door.
â€œI opened it because there are good things going on here,â€ Chambers said. â€œIt’s family oriented here, and I love Rick and I love the location.â€
Gruen, who grew up on a nearby farm, also bought the Dorset Valley Trailside Inn from Ron Drews and other members of his family.
The Drews family opened the inn as a bed and breakfast in 1994 on the farm where Ron grew up and opened the restaurant in 2000 in the old school. Ron was finishing his first year there when the school closed in the spring of 1963.
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Ron still cooks in the morning at Dorset Valley School Restaurant & Bakery, where Gruen also cooks.
â€œI was born and raised in the community,â€ Gruen said of his decision to buy the property and businesses from Drews and other members of his family. â€œAnd I wanted to give back to the community where I was born and raised.
Additionally, Gruen said, â€œI’ve been a cook my whole life. So I saw it as an opportunity to do what I love and love to cook.
Looking ahead, Gruen said he hopes to convert a nearby barn to a greenhouse by next spring. It will be used to grow vegetables for the restaurant and flowers which will be on sale in Dorset Valley Mercantile.
Gruen also hopes to open a petting zoo next spring, with alpacas, goats, horses and cattle. And he hopes someone will paint a mural on a nearby grain silo in the near future.
â€œI am optimistic about the future,â€ said Robertson, who joined Gruen staff as general manager in December. She said she was interested in joining the businesses because Gruen was planning to revitalize them.
“It was a good opportunity,” said restaurant chef Pete Staege of La Crosse of his decision to join his staff five months ago.
Diners are interested in comfort food made with local ingredients, Staege said. â€œThe trend is for more organic produce, more produce grown by local farmers,â€ he said. â€œWe can get our products and our meats right here. People appreciate healthy, comfort food that is palatable but inexpensive. “
Staege said he uses as many locally grown and organic ingredients as possible.
The restaurant’s head pastry chef, Becky Bailey, said she joined the staff three months ago â€œbecause I love to cook. And I get paid to do what I love to do.
Bailey said she particularly liked the restaurant’s pies and her carrot cake. â€œAnd I know people appreciate them,â€ she said. “It means a lot.”
Gruen said hickory nut is the restaurant’s most popular type of pie, while coconut cream and banana cream pies are also big sellers.
â€œWe (also) make seasonal pies,â€ Gruen added. â€œWe start in spring with a rhubarb pie and then a rhubarb strawberry. And then we make berry pies. Right now it’s apple season so we are making Dutch apple pie which is very popular.
The restaurant’s burgers are a draw, as are its steaks, seafood, and pasta. His Friday night fish fries and Saturday night prime rib are also popular.
â€œWe raise our own beef,â€ said Gruen. â€œWe butcher it in Elroy at Integrity Meatsâ€ and serve it in the restaurant and sell it to the merchant store.
Ice cream, beer and wine are also available at the restaurant.
Some of the more popular baked goods include homemade bread, rolls, pies, cakes, cinnamon rolls, and donuts.
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