BY Sarah smith
The whiff of nostalgia greets guests to the recently reopened Vacationaire on Island Lake.
The dining room, now called the Family Inn at Vacationaire, and lodge, reopened earlier this month.
“Oh yeah, people say it still smells like the old place,” laughs Steve Wiekamp, who helped dad Virgil re-open the business.
That old musty smell of knotty pine is inviting, not something that bothers the company, the men maintain.
People immediately reminisce when they walk in the door, to good times of the past. Nostalgia is driving people by the carloads to the front door.
The business, consisting of the lodge, 13 cabin units and the dining room, closed in 2009. Virgil Wiekamp used to live and work at the resort, for two different sets of owners, he said. Steve said he came on the scene in 2001.
The father and son opened July 15 while their liquor license was pending. It finally came and they’re off and running. The lack of liquor service didn’t deter many guests at the outset. The few who left said they’d be back.
The dining room is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. The menu has changed little since the Wiekamps want to preserve a supper club atmosphere.
The broasted chicken is a huge hit; taco night Tuesdays is starting to catch on and the Sunday brunch has a good following already.
The lodge rooms are for rent daily, weekly and nightly.
The pool is the only amenity that has remained closed. Years of inactivity have contributed to the high cost it will take to re-open it to swimmers. Wiekamps have that project slated for the future. There are simply too many irons in the fire this summer.
The dining room actually has two sections, one that seats more than 100 and a banquet room that can be closed off to seat 40 guests for special occasions, meetings or private gatherings. There is also seating on the lounge side of the business for up to 50 and full menu service out on the deck overlooking Island Lake. That adds a unique touch.
The full menu covers the gamut of entrees from steaks to seafood, wraps, burgers, appetizers and a kids menu. Pasta and pizzas are also served.
The former chef returned and is getting high praise for the food, just like his customers remembered it. But Wiekamps found that opening mid-summer presented a challenge finding wait-staff and kitchen help.
That obstacle overcome, along with some opening night jitters, and the Family Inn is off and running.
The Wiekamps plan to be open year-round.
Food is available to go.
A snowmobile trail runs nearly to the door. There’s still a game room in the lower level.
True to most supper clubs, the Friday night special will be prime rib, with bar-be-cued ribs featured Saturday nights.
The Vacationaire is blessed by perfect water levels this summer. Channels to Eagle and Potato lakes are open and water levels aren’t too high to get watercraft under the bridges. You can boat up to the supper club.
And there’s a sand volleyball court on the lawn in case you bring your team with you.
Virgil Wiekamp located some vintage postcards of the old place that are now on display. The lodge is the old supper club. The current supper club was built in 1972.
The Wiekamps will rely on that nostalgic feeling to bring new generations of guests to the Family Inn.
“We get stories about people who say they got married here,” Steve Wiekamp said.
The men hope to prolong that supper club hospitality well into the future.
Supper clubs aren’t a product of a bygone era, the Wiekamps believe.
Indeed, lodges and supper clubs are enjoying a revival.
With business picking up each day, it’s like the Vacationaire never left.
Vacationaire is located eight miles north of Park Rapids on Highway 71, right on Co. Rd. 89.