Paynesville friends run floating cafe on lake
The Koronis Kafe is like a drive-in on the lake. Customers arrive by pontoon and fishing boats to enjoy short order goods right from the grill, along with a wide selection of treats available on this converted houseboat.
PAYNESVILLE, Minn. — For those who don’t believe complaining gets you anywhere, talk to Steve Peterson and Mike Arnold of Paynesville, Minnesota.
The two friends were sharing their complaints about a lack of restaurants along Lake Koronis as they celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in 2016 when Arnold offered a suggestion. Maybe they could do an on-the-water version of a food truck for the lake.
“Brilliant idea,” Peterson said.
The Koronis Kafe is now dry-docked for the winter after having completed its fourth successful season of doing exactly that.
Every Saturday in the summer, the Koronis Kafe drops anchor on the beach of Second Island on Lake Koronis. Onboard are Alex and Laura Naujokas, ready to take orders and serve up hamburgers and short-order foods along with a wide range of treats. It’s as if this were a drive-in A&W. Except in this case, the customers arrive on pontoons and fishing boats.
Peterson is among those who enjoys boating over to the Kafe, of course. Because of it: “I’ve met more people on the lake in the last couple of years than in my whole life,” said the long-time lakeshore resident.
Having a place where lake residents and lake users could gather and meet was at the very heart of their desire in launching the Koronis Kafe, Peterson explained. There are roughly 500 residences around the nearly 16 miles of shoreline. Yet most residents, himself included, rarely got to know one another until the Kafe became a place to gather.
“This was our main goal; a community builder offering a gathering spot with food service,” Mary Hendrickson, one of the owners, said in an email.
She is among eight couples who initially joined to create an LLC and raise the capital needed for the venture. They purchased a houseboat advertised on Craig’s List for $14,000 that was being used on the St. Croix River. It measured 40 feet by 14 feet, and weighed in like a whale, at about 20,000 pounds.
They trailered it up and brought it to Paynesville, where Arnold and his crew at Mike Arnold Construction totally rebuilt the interior for its new role. They followed Minnesota Department of Health specifications for a food establishment and installed glass walls and ceilings, stainless steel-grade restaurant refrigerators, freezer, cooktops, grill and washing sink.
All of the work was completed by the end of summer in 2017. The following year became its first, full season on the water.
It’s basically a break-even venture financially, said Peterson, adding that there is hope it could do better. The investors are looking at opportunities to use the Koronis Kafe to offer cruises and dinners on the lake.
Most of all, the owners view the Koronis Kafe as an example of a true, community effort. “One nice thing about a small town, you know who has the expertise,” said Peterson.
Koronis Enterprises, a Paynesville steel fabricator, built a special trailer for the vessel when it’s not on the water. Bugbee’s Resort provides a place to moor it.
Public access to the beach on Second Island is very important to the enterprise. The island was originally owned by the community's first dentist and his wife, Con and Mary Winther. They donated the island to Courage Center in 1965, which put it up for sale 50 years later.
It was about to fall into private hands. Community members launched a fundraising effort which allowed Paynesville Township to acquire the island. The township placed the island in a conservation easement to maintain it as a wilderness property for the public. It offers trails, two rustic camping sites and the beach.
“A hidden gem,” said Peterson of the island.
Something of the same can be said for having a floating cafe on the lake. “It took a while to catch on, but now we have figured out what works and the public loves it,” said Hendrickson.