At Greater Fergus Falls, we’re always rooting for our business community. Watching local businesses grow and thrive is always a cause for celebration — and when business owners bring new and exciting ideas to the Fergus Falls area, well, all the better!
Today, we’re sharing the details about an inspiring new restaurant opening downtown this spring. Keep reading to learn more about Toast and how it celebrates many of the things that make Fergus Falls a great place to explore.
Creating a Legacy
Whether you live in the Fergus Falls region or visit the area frequently, you’re likely familiar with Union Pizza & Brewing Co. The restaurant is owned and operated by Mayor Ben Schierer and his wife, Tessa. Ben also serves on the Greater Fergus Falls Board of Directors.
While Union Pizza & Brewing Co. has been a Fergus Falls staple since 2015, the original concept was a bit different than the brick-and-mortar location the community knows and loves.
“I had thought about opening a food truck with a wood fire pizza oven, and I’d written a business plan for that,” Ben recalls. “Around that same time, a friend of mine was doing some home-brewing at a time when the micro and craft beer scene was still up and coming in Minnesota … and I wrote a business plan for that too.”
The more the Schierers thought about it, the more they liked the idea. It wasn’t until a friend mentioned that the space Union Pizza & Brewing Co. now occupies became available that things really fell into place. “It was kind of meant to be, so we went forward with it in the summer of 2014. The next thing you know, we opened the doors the following March.”
Union Pizza & Brewing Co. has been a community favorite ever since. Now, the Schierers are adding a new restaurant to their portfolio. The duo has been hard at work getting ready for the opening of Toast, which will serve breakfast, lunch, and coffee.
Toast of the Town
Though a second restaurant was never in their plans, Tessa always liked the idea of a restaurant centered around toast, which is her favorite food. “You can just do so many things with it. It’s like a blank canvas for a lot of ideas,” she explains.
Tessa’s idea remained a daydream until 2020 when Cafe 116 closed and opened up the space right next door to Union Pizza & Brewing Co. The COVID-19 pandemic also played a part in the couple’s decision to go ahead with Toast. With shelter in place guidelines, people missed opportunities to get together, including during the holidays.
“We were so anxious to move forward and spend time with other people and bring them together,” Tessa says.
The pieces started to come together, and the Schierer’s decided to go for it. A love of toast and the desire to bring people together to celebrate inspired Toast’s name. Not only is toast a classic breakfast food, but it’s a celebration of life.
While toast was the inspiration behind their new endeavor, it won’t be the only thing on the menu. The Schierers plan to change the menu frequently and feature some fusion cuisine. Representing the heritage of the community was also important to them. The menu will give nods to the Scandinavian and Danish origins of the region.
“I do a lot of baking, and we have so many Scandinavians in the area that I thought it would be fun to have something based on those Scandinavian baked goods that people love so much,” Tessa says. “It’s also really popular in Danish culture to have an open-faced sandwich on bread or toast, which went really well with our theme.”
Patrons will notice Scandinavian design elements in the newly remodeled space as well. The original structure will remain the same as Cafe 116 with a coffee bar and seating, but Toast will have a completely different look in terms of decor and ambiance. The restaurant will also feature a pass-through that opens to Union Pizza & Brewing Co.
A Community Affair
One of the coolest things about Toast is the Schierer’s vision to work with other business owners and artists in the community. “Collaborating and partnering with other food entrepreneurs in town is really important to us. We’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to start our restaurants, and we realize that that’s a pipe dream for many people. There’s a lot of risk upfront; there’s a lot of overhead,” notes Ben.
There will be a number of local businesses operating out of Toast’s kitchen, which allows Toast to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for patrons. From catering to take-and-bake meals, there will be a little something for everyone.
You can get to know some of Toast’s co-op contributors below.
Roasted is a new addition to the Fergus Falls business community that offers healthy microwaveable meals to busy and health-conscious people. Evan Burkdoll, Roasted’s owner and chef, plans to change the menu every couple of weeks to keep things fresh. In addition to renting space from Toasted, Burkdoll will be cooking at the restaurant part-time.
“I see Toast as being a great place to gather. That’s the beauty of food; it brings people together, and I think the way Toast is designed will do just that,” he says. “The food will have a Scandinavian theme, which I love because it really shows that simple food with quality ingredients is the best.
Learn More: Facebook
MamaSheena’s Fresh & Fancy
MamaSheena’s Fresh & Fancy caters weddings, business luncheons, dinners, graduations, and family get-togethers in the area. In addition to catering services, MamaSheena’s also offers freezer meals, take and bake options, and online weekly meal plans for busy families. Owner Tasheena Fiskum will use Toast's kitchen for her own business, as well as cook in the restaurant and help out where needed.
“I love that Ben and Tessa want to help others succeed in their own business and are giving them and myself a great kitchen to work in and do our thing along with helping their dreams come true,” Fiskum says. “[Toast] is going to be a great hub for the Fergus Falls community.”
Jeney Christensen, who launched a Peney Cakes pop-up last summer, is known for creating delicious confections like cupcakes, cakes, cookies, and more. She hopes to expand her business while sharing Peney Cakes’ sweet creations with Toast customers. She’d also like to host tastings in the restaurant’s event space once it’s safe to do so.
“I love working with other business owners to show this community the unique, amazing, and truly phenomenal experiences they can have right in their own backyard … I think Toast is going to add to that treasure trove of local hot spots that will drive visitors to come back again and again.”
Owned by Chelsey Beilhartz, Sweeties has a history of serving delicious ice cream made with organic dairy and homemade additions. Now Beilhartz is shifting gears and focusing on sorbets and raw food desserts with a twist. She’ll distribute Sweeties’ frozen treats and desserts to local restaurants like Toast and other area businesses.
“To have access to a licensed kitchen and be surrounded by other food creators is extremely exciting to me,” Beilhartz says. “The support of each other’s business ventures and the respect we have for one another is hands down the best part.”
Learn More: Facebook
Ben and Tessa are looking forward to working with each co-op contributor and hope to add more in the future.
“We want Toast to be kind of a small event center where people can gather and eat food and have coffee, but then in the evenings, it can be used for different events,” Tessa remarks. Some of those events include offering art or cooking classes, live music, and crafting events. “Whatever it is, we just want to work with our community and make it a great space.”
Learning to Adapt in Light of COVID-19
Opening a second restaurant is a big undertaking, even under normal circumstances. The pandemic has certainly created hurdles across the board for many, but the Schierer’s say they’ve been lucky so far.
The most significant obstacle they’re facing at the moment is setting a date for Toast’s opening. They hope to do so in early May, but the guidelines can change at any time because of the virus. Still, the Schierer’s aren’t dwelling too much on the challenges.
“Every challenge is an opportunity,” Ben says. “It’s important to be flexible and go into it knowing that things may not be exactly the way you learned about it in school or what you wrote in your business plan. You have to be flexible and willing to adapt because, even outside of a pandemic, it won’t be exactly like you think it will.”
Owning a business in a supportive community like Fergus Falls definitely helps, though.
“The people in this community want you to succeed, which is just humbling,” Ben remarks. “This happened with Union Pizza too, but I have all these people coming in and bringing me their beloved family recipes and things, and it feels so personal. It’s more than just a restaurant for people,” adds Tessa. “I love that people get so involved, and they’re so supportive and excited. It just feels really good.”
The Greater Fergus Falls team is excited to welcome this new addition to the community and can’t wait to enjoy everything Toast has to offer! In the meantime, tune in to our latest podcast episode to learn more about the Schierer’s vision for Toast and why they chose to live and work in Fergus Falls.
Special thanks to Ben and Tessa Schierer and the Toast co-op contributors for sharing their stories with us!