After years working in restaurants and around food in a variety of ways, Eric Ernst knew it was time to settle in to a place of his own where the creativity could be all his own. Through a somewhat odd series of events, downtown Forest Lake became home to his Ernie’s Eatery.
“I came and ate at what used to be Cilantro’s, and although I wasn’t a big fan of the food, I was curious about the space,” Ernst said. “Two months later, I saw that it was available on Craigslist, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Ernst contacted the landlords of the space at 143 Lake St. N. and learned that they had no idea that a business was being sold out of their space on Craigslist. After a short discussion, a proper price was agreed upon, and Ernst started working on his plans to move in. On Feb. 28, the doors were opened.
“I have worked around all different styles of food, but what I can do here is limited by the space,” he said. “I have no hood vents here, so I knew I had to define my restaurant based upon what the location afforded me. A sandwich shop seemed like the perfect fit.”
Ernst grew up in Eden Prairie and was trained in the culinary arts at Hennepin Community College. He moved to the Forest Lake area seven years ago. He opened Bunkies Bowling Bar and Grill in Chisago City and from there moved to work for a year at Acqua. He also owned and operated a smoked juicy lucy food trailer in St. Paul.
“My plan for Ernie’s Eatery is to keep it fresh and keep it local,” Ernst said. “People are craving something healthy with freshly prepared ingredients that are locally sourced, and that is exactly what they are going to get here.”
Ernie’s Eatery features soups, sandwiches, salads, wraps, a breakfast burrito and a unique variety of pretzel.
“We offer a sweet Bavarian pretzel, which is a lot different than your typical stadium pretzel,” Ernst said. “We will offer them on their own with a wide variety of mostly homemade sauces and spreads and we will also be making sandwiches with them. The unique thing about these sweet pretzels is that when you add a little heat to them, it really balances the flavor just perfectly.”
In keeping with the local theme, Ernie’s Eatery also features local artwork, and Ernst is looking for more. Currently, Ernst’s mother, Marcia, has her pottery on display and the chalk pastel drawings on the wall are from Minneapolis-based Laura Fryman.
“We are definitely looking for artists from this area to offer up some work to be displayed on our walls,” Ernst said. “If we get enough interest, we can have a rotating series of artwork, and that would be great.”
As for the future of the sandwich shop, Ernst is planning a grand opening April 6, 7, 8 and 9. He is in talks with Cherry’s Ice Cream Parlour (reopening April 1) to offer a possible meal deal discount of sorts, he will set up an outdoor patio area as soon as the weather changes, and he is seeking summer cashier help. On top of that, Ernst plans to bring back a local favorite.
“Whistler Soda got bought out by the Blue Sun Soda Shop, and suddenly the soda wasn’t available much in this area,” he said. “We are proud to say that we have teamed with Blue Sun and will offer 25 flavors of Whistler soda and also be a bottle return location. These drinks were a local favorite that I am sure people will glad to see return.”
Looking long term, Ernst is in the midst of building a food trailer that will see his Ernie’s Eatery goods travel to local events and festivals, and he is also planning an app that will allow for deliveries to the docks as Lakeside Memorial Park.
“There are a lot of things in the works, but for now I am focusing on getting to the know the community and letting them get to know me,” Ernst said. “I will let my food do the talking, and hopefully I can build a good reputation that way.”
Winter hours for Ernie’s Eatery will be 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Expanded hours will be available during the summer months.