Former co-owner of The Laker died last week at 77
In the 1970s, Forest Lake’s downtown strip was the main place to go for a nice meal, a cold beer or a cocktail. Establishments like Der Lach Haus, the Red Mill and the Forest Laker were the places to go.
At the Forest Laker, the personality of Lenny Kuznia, one of the bar owners, helped make the place swing. For the better part of the 1970s, Kuznia and partner Jerry Jasicki were fixtures on Lake Street, serving up fun and tasty menu items.
Now Kuznia is gone. Kuznia was 77 when he died from leukemia at his home in North Branch on Thursday, Oct. 25.
“He was the front man,” Jasicki said this week. “He had a great personality and enjoyed people.”
The partnership ran the Forest Laker from 1971 through 1978 before the duo moved west in Forest Lake, buying the Flare Broiler, a freeway interchange restaurant that sat where Taco Bell is today. They sold the business in 1981 and embarked on solo careers in the food and beverage industry.
“We were together for 14 years,” Jasicki said. “We were always in the food business.”
How it Started
The two men met while working as cooks on the railroad. They worked on the Northcoast Limited for the Northern Pacific Railroad from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s. Both started as third cooks on the passenger train and worked their way up to chef status. Their duty included trips to Chicago and Seattle with five or six days of time away from home.
In 1965, Jasicki left his train job to run the kitchen at Mounds Park Tavern on Hudson Road in St. Paul. Kuznia would soon join him. Kuznia remained with the railroad for another year but would work shifts at the tavern to give Jasicki some time off. They soon joined forces as a team and moved to JJ’s on Arcade in St. Paul where they ran the kitchen from 1967 to 1971.
It was in 1971 when the Forest Laker came up for sale and they moved north to Forest Lake. The old downtown business, once known as the Commercial Hotel and Bar, became a successful venture for the pair. They remodeled the dining room and kitchen and used the former bowling alley space in the lower level for a banquet hall.
The owners alternated shifts in the kitchen. Kuznia would often be behind the bar serving customers and planning events, such as trips to sporting events in the metro area or the bar’s famous St. Patrick’s Day parade that involved the three downtown establishments.
Before buying the Flare Broiler, Kuznia and Jasicki toyed with building a new restaurant on the lake, but passed on the project. In 1976, as part of their new restaurant plan, they purchased Nelson’s Cabins which stood on NE Second Avenue. They were the last operators of the old resort business before the cabins were knocked down.
After selling the Flare Broiler in 1981, the two partners did not leave the food and liquor business. Jasicki owned a restaurant and bar in Pine City for a number of years.
Kuznia worked as a bartender at the Wyoming Char House while continuing to live in Columbus and later bought the Cricket Bar in Rock Creek. He expanded the business to offer catering service and banquet facilities.
Leonard P. Kuznia was born on June 6, 1935 in Stephen, a small farming community in northwestern Minnesota. He was the second-youngest of 12 Kuznia children.
He entered the U.S. Army after graduating high school in Crookston. It was in the Army where he learned to cook. After the service he went to work for the railroad, logging 10 years with the NP as a cook.
He was proud of his Polish heritage and loved to dance to Polish music. He was a member of the Polish American Club and the Midwest Polka Association. He was a lifetime member of the Knights of Columbus and was active at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in North Branch where he and his wife, Janet, retired.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Wednesday, Oct. 31 at St. Gregory in North Branch. Interment was at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, North Branch.
He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Janet; one son, Kevin (Diane) Kuznia; two daughters, Lisa (Mike) Maksymkiw, and Amy (Dan) Schmitz; 13 grandchildren; two brothers, Thomas and Ralph; four sisters, Teresa Dufault, Barbara Campbell, Dorothy Anderson and Florence Ziemer; many nieces, nephews and other family members.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Bert and Martha Kuznia, and five siblings.
Memorials are suggested to Hope Lodge, 2500 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.