Jessica and Erik Lietz are becoming household names across the Iron Range for their ambitious and exemplary work revitalizing restaurants like The Whistling Bird in Gilbert and Boomtown Woodfire in Eveleth. And because owning and operating two restaurants in two different cities isn't keeping them busy enough, they're working on a new restaurant concept in Hibbing.

The Process

The Lietz's love what they do, from start to finish - and they take great pride in offering new and unique dining experiences to communities on the Iron Range. It's a lot of work for the couple, but it's the kind of work that makes them tick.

Rather than purchasing existing restaurants that are currently in operation, or building from the ground up, the Lietz's choose to purchase restaurant properties that are bank-owned. This approach allows them to have creative freedom without the extensive costs and overhead that can be associated with new construction.

Although they buy existing properties, there is still a lot of revitalization involved in bringing a closed restaurant back to life. The Lietz's think carefully about what their customers might want and need with every new concept they create. Oftentimes, to put their own touches on décor and layout, the entire space must be gutted and the kitchen must be rebuilt.

"There's something so exciting about what we do," said Jessica. "There's an adrenaline rush in the restaurant industry - we get to create our own destiny. We have creative freedom to see our visions through from start to finish."

Creating new menu options comes with a bit of experimentation, but the Lietz's always keep old standards in the mix, too. They feel the most important thing is to invite people to try new things, while still providing an element of familiarity.

The Lietz's say it's always exciting to open a new restaurant to the public, and both The Whistling Bird and Boomtown Woodfire have been very well received in their communities. Chatter started early in Hibbing - even before the Lietz's had made an offer on the vacant downtown space - which goes to show the community of Hibbing is looking forward to having a new dining option.

The Outcome

In addition to introducing creative dining options, the Lietz's are helping local economies thrive by providing numerous jobs. They currently have about 60 employees, and with the addition of their new Hibbing restaurant, the total will be over 100.

Jessica says the restaurant industry is always hiring and there always seems to be a shortage in both kitchen and front of the house staff. It usually takes her awhile to get new staff members in place and up to speed on operations. The new restaurant in Hibbing is still in the planning phase, but will present exciting new opportunities for the region. Luckily, some staff from Boomtown Woodfire in Eveleth will transfer to Hibbing, so the Lietz's are expecting that training will go smoothly from the get-go.


Help Along the Way

Both Erik and Jessica have extensive experience in the restaurant industry, but found that it isn't always easy to find financial assistance. The failure rate in restaurants trends high, and many banks can't offer loans or don't want to assume the risk.

With creative financing options, the Entrepreneur Fund provided funding for Boomtown Woodfire and connected them with experts to help with other important business operations like payroll processing and bookkeeping.

"The Entrepreneur Fund is there to help business owners," said Jessica. "They want to help local entrepreneurs succeed, and they'll do whatever they can to help push your vision forward."