‘Best to ride off on a high point’
By Aaron Brom
A food service legacy that started in St. Michael 36 years ago and spread to Big Lake is now ending.
Russell and Lynn Vetsch and son, Darek, all originally from St. Michael, have sold the remaining Russell’s Of Course restaurant in Big Lake, more than 10 years after closing the St. Michael location.
“How do you say goodbye to such a legacy?” Darek Vetsch questioned. “Sometimes it’s best to ride off to the sunset on a high point.”
That high point got its start in 1981, as Russell and Lynn opened the original restaurant at the present Liberty Restaurant and American Legion location on Central Avenue in St. Michael, just east of County Rd. 19.
Back then St. Michael was a tiny hamlet with not a stoplight in the entire town, other than the blinking red light at Central (Hwy. 241) and County Rd. 19. And if someone heard you were from St. Michael, a common response was, “That’s where Russell’s is.”
Indeed, the restaurant helped put St. Michael on the map by drawing customers from near and far.
The Big Lake location opened 30 years ago. The two locations operated jointly until 2006, when Russell Vetsch sold the St. Michael location.
Darek Vetsch said Russell’s will continue in Big Lake, as the restaurant was sold to Larry Sperr of Hanover.
Darek, a 1998 STMA graduate, started working for his parents in the kitchen when he was barely a teenager. He would later co-own the Big Lake location, and most recently was elected to the Wright County Board serving his present city of Monticello.
Russell Vetsch had a food background beginning in Big Lake at Tracy’s restaurant, then went on to work at the Rockford House, and was food and beverage director at Trollhaugen ski resort in Wisconsin before starting Russell’s Of Course in 1981.
“We served over 300,000 cuts in prime rib, 2.5 million meals and employed over 1,000 people in past 37 years in both locations. We’ve had some dear treasured customers,” Darek said.
He said Russell will now enjoy retirement, spending time with Lynn at their Annandale home, and especially enjoying more time with their grandchildren.
Darek said his father regretted not spending more time with the family, instead being wrapped up near daily with the restaurant.
“My dad told me, ‘Don’t miss any more of your kids’ lives,’ Darek said, who related to his father’s predicament: “I never spent Thanksgiving with my family, or Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day or Easter. How do you quantify that?”
Now that he’ll be away from the restaurant business, Darek said he’ll not only enjoy more time with wife Karen and their five children, but will have more time to advocate for the restaurant industry, as well as giving more time to his job as a Wright County Commissioner.
Upon word of selling the restaurant, Darek said the Vetches were overcome with the number of people sending messages of thanks. There is a “Russell’s Memories” Facebook page where the comments came pouring in.
Krisha Jung Friede said, “Happy retirement to both Russ and Lynn! Well deserved retirement! Your restaurant holds some of our family’s favorite memories from going there for our prom back in 1991 to celebrating our daughter’s graduation this year! Thank you for great meals and service! We’ll miss you guys!”
Julie Brausen added, “Just want to thank all of you for the many years of food experiences and memories of working together. The restaurant and catering business was successful because of your constant hard work, loyalty to the business and the care for your employees and community. There are many fond and funny stories that I will always cherish. Cheers to your retirement.”
Anita Deuel said, “Happy retirement to Russell and Lynn. We will miss you, but this is well deserved. All five of our daughters and one granddaughter worked at Russell’s and also the catering end of business too-starting out as bussers, hostessing and moving into servers. You are an excellent couple to work for. We also received so many compliments when you catered several of the girls weddings. We will miss you, but relax and enjoy your retirement!!”
Darek Vetsch said his family has the utmost gratitude to the community and customers who enjoyed Russell’s in St. Michael and Big Lake.
“It’s amazingly heartwarming how many people we touched,” he said. “This is very bitter sweet, but you always want to go out leaving people wanting more. We’ve touched the St. Michael and Big Lake communities forever.”