Spanky's Stone Hearth to change ownership after almost 20 years
Spanky's Stone Hearth owner Josh Hanson announced today that three of the restaurant's tenured employees would be purchasing the business together, effective May 1, 2023.
VERGAS — A long-standing lakes country staple, Spanky’s Stone Hearth, will soon be under new ownership.
The rural Vergas restaurant, a popular destination for fine dining in the lakes area, will change hands from current owner and proprietor Josh Hanson to tenured employees Matthew Hanson, Michael Kasper and Jared Faul as of May 1, 2023.
The trio of new owners has no immediate plans to make major changes in the restaurant, which will continue to operate under its current name and concept.
“Our intention is to honor the time and tradition that Josh has created over the last almost 20 years, and continue to provide an excellent experience for our guests,” said Matthew Hanson. “We are grateful for the opportunity to continue the legacy he built, at an amazing location and with a fantastic staff. Jared, Mike and I have been working in-step for the last decade and are eager for this next chapter to begin.”
They added that each of them brings different strengths to the business. "Right now, Mike is our kitchen manager, Matthew runs the bar and I run the reservations at the front end," said Faul, adding that they will continue to operate in those areas as owners.
'Looking forward to slowing down'
Josh Hanson, meanwhile, plans to continue working at Spanky's, as an employee, while maintaining ownership of the Spanky's building site and property on Rose Lake. "I'm back to being on the payroll," he joked, adding, “It is my great pleasure to be able to provide an opportunity of ownership for these three hard-working, talented and loyal employees to continue the long-established footprint we’ve created here at Spanky’s Stone Hearth.
"Over the years, I’ve worked in every position the restaurant has to offer and I’m confident in Matt, Michael and Jared’s ability to own and operate at the highest of standards. After almost 20 years I’m looking forward to slowing down a bit, spending time with my family and continuing to support and elevate our community.”
A Vergas native, Hanson and his wife, Megan, are raising their two young children — sons Huck, 6, and Walker, 3 — in the Frazee-Vergas community.
With this change, Hanson's tenure at the restaurant will come full circle, as he worked there under past owners Chuck and Brenda Minge for many years before purchasing the popular supper club in 2005, at age 26. A self-taught chef, entrepreneur and wine connoisseur, Hanson "has evolved the restaurant, menu and concept throughout his proprietorship, introducing many new flavors and ideas to the Frazee-Vergas lakes area," as was stated in a press release announcing the ownership change.
Some of those innovations have included the customer-favorite “Trust Me” menu option, intricate wine and cocktail pairing dinners, expansive on-site gardens, and locally-raised, prime grade beef. Additionally, Hanson has created a successful catering operation , a food truck entity serving unique and inspired street eats and an extensive, well-curated wine collection . In late 2019, the restaurant even released its own cookbook .
Though Hanson has had many successes in his long career with Spanky's, there has also been adversity: In late summer 2010, a kitchen roof fire gutted the restaurant building that had stood in the same Rose Lake location since 1946, when it first opened under the name Stone Hearth Hilltop Lounge. They were able to rebuild and reopen a year later, however, becoming more successful than ever.
"There are a lot of different ways to handle adversity when it's thrown at you," Hanson said in a 2011 interview with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. "We chose to take the high road and improve on a bad situation."
The restaurant has been a popular destination for lakes-area diners, as it is a multi-year winner in the Detroit Lakes Tribune's "Best of the Lakes" awards competition, voted on by readers. Some of its awards have included Best Fine Dining Restaurant; Best Wine List; Best Cocktail; Best Dessert; Best Ribs; and Best Catering. It has also earned an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine.