Restaurants play an integral role in our communities, serving as important gathering places and contributing to the local economy. Every dollar spent in restaurants generates $2 in sales for other industries, according to the National Restaurant Association.
3 Cheers Hospitality is a food, beverage and catering company with a focus on farm-to-fork food. The growing company has a history in the region that originated more than a decade ago with Prairie Bay Grill and Catering in Baxter.
Nick Miller has been with Prairie Bay since it opened in 2004. He served as its general manager until 2015 when he and longtime chef Matt Annand bought the business they had helped to develop. They brought on partner John Poston, who added another establishment, Sherwood Forest in Lake Shore, to the company’s roster.
Since then, the partners have operated in a “small and scrappy” way, which enables them to try different concepts, according to Miller. They’ve added two more eateries, the Mad Hugger Cafe and Iron Range Eatery. In the off-season 3 Cheers employs about 75 people, both full time and part time. During the summer that number swells to more than 100 people.
“We’ve had good growth in our company,” says Miller, who now serves as CFO. “We’re only limited by staffing.”
At Prairie Bay, a new chef was hired in the last couple of years, who put a “fun spin on the menu,” according to Miller. Patrons can choose from an array of items like house smoked brisket or spicy Bombay chicken. The restaurant also supports a robust catering business.
Sherwood Forest is located in a 1920s log lodge on a lake. Miller says the challenge with that concept was to make sure it was inviting and not pretentious. The menu they settled on is diverse and includes everything from sliders and street tacos to baked walleye and filet mignon.
“The building does nine-tenths of the work,” jokes Miller, noting that a good chef and great service add to the restaurant’s draw and have turned Sherwood Forest into a place that locals like to frequent.
The Mad Hugger Cafe provides internal catering and food service at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. A far cry from typical food service, it features a fresh salad bar and rotating daily entrees like lasagna, reuben sandwiches and beef fajitas.
The latest restaurant concept for 3 Cheers is the first they built from the ground up. Miller says the Iron Range Eatery in Crosby has been very well received. “We’ve been growing into Crosby, which is now hitting a huge renaissance. We weren’t the first in, but we weren’t the last in.”
Iron Range Eatery has menu items to please every palate, from tacos to burgers and pasta. Patrons can order a pizza with classic toppings like pepperoni and sausage or be adventurous and try the caramelized pear and gorgonzola pie.
A Community-Minded Company
When asked whether the company operates under a particular philosophy, Miller says it comes down to three big words: community, family and experience.
The business purchases ingredients and supplies locally whenever possible. It also gives back to charities when it can. “Nothing is cooler than helping to build up your own community,” says Miller.
Every second Thursday since 2007, 3 Cheers has hosted a “Happy Hour for a Cause” at its restaurants. It provides food and Cash Wise donates wine for the events. Attendees are asked to make a donation and a different charity gets 100 percent of the proceeds each month. People can enjoy themselves while learning about and supporting nonprofits in the community.
The business is about more than just gaining market share in other ways too. Miller likens the company’s employees to family members.
“We’re big into family. Our team is like family — and we don’t just say that. Our team is important, and we want them to bring their own ideas to the table,” he says, noting they want employees to enjoy coming to work every day.
Miller says the restaurants also aim to deliver unique and fun dining experiences for patrons, whether it’s a wine dinner or the ultimate date night where the chef creates a customized menu for a couple.
The 3 Cheers team is always interested in pushing the envelope, according to Miller, who hints at a new venture that will be starting up this summer. He credits the community for embracing their ventures and contributing to the company’s success.
“We have loyal, great customers that take good care of us and follow us on to the next thing,” he says.