Peterson, Minn., has a new “outdoor convenience store” as co-owner/operator Zach Lind refers to his new business. At Driftless Trading Post, you can order a flatbread or panini, pick up some beer or wine, rent a canoe, kayak or tube, and grab a souvenir!
Lind’s family was really into the concept of “local food” before COVID hit; the family owned and operated Grandpa Don’s Market while Lind ran a trout farm business. Grandpa Don’s continued to flourish during the pandemic, but the trout farming business which consisted of seven farms across two states took a nosedive. When the Twin Cities restaurants which purchased the trout shut down, the business had no choice but to turn 200,000 fish into liquid fertilizer.
Lind chose to “make lemonade out of the lemons” and take the time to rethink and start fresh. Lind, who had moved back home after the trout farms closed, needed to find a new business. He took his friend Josh Rassel, visiting from Elkhart Lake, Wis., on a tour through Peterson. There he saw a sign advertising Geneva’s Tube and Canoe Rental for sale. In a “light bulb moment,” Lind punched his buddy in the chest — this was the opportunity they needed! Here was a chance to move food in a fun way! While Grandpa Don’s was successful, Lind found it hard to have a relationship with his online customers.
Grandpa Don’s already had the necessary food handling licensing. Rassel had the certification and experience to be a restaurant manager. New licenses for the kitchen and wine and beer were applied for and obtained by the seven investors. The investors with the exception of Rassel are all Lind family members. Lind’s brother Kobe works at the restaurant and sister Tori helped by lettering the huge map of where the food comes from, which Lind drew and painted on the wall. Dad Dave drives the shuttle bus for the tubes and kayaks.
Driftless tapped into Rassel’s culinary as they set their menu. Current offerings include several flatbread pizzas including smoked brisket, turkey pesto, mediterranean, and margherita. Panini choices include reubens, beef’n cheddar, cuban, turkey pesto and ham — all served with Norsland Lefse Ufda Chips. Friday night offers a trout fish fry, using trout that was raised by Lind.
New food items will be offered beginning next week. Driftless will be serving home-smoked trout melts, a smoked trout grain (wild rice) bowl, and a couple salads using produce from Featherstone Farms — a kale Caesar and an Asian Napa cabbage salad.
Food sales until recently were the larger share of the business, but the Fourth of July weekend marked a huge increase in water rentals. On Saturday, 115 tubes went out on the river. Driftless has 200 tubes, 20 kayaks, and 10 canoes available for rental.
Lind touts the kayaks as the best suited for the Root River. Since the Root is shallow, kayaks with the capability of treading a mere two inches of water are easier to use than canoes which sit lower in the water and can easily smash on rocks. In addition, kayaks provide safety for beginners. Even when flipped over kayaks float; there is floating foam in the middle of a kayak; so even after a smash on rocks, the kayaks will continue to float. Lind suggests that canoes are better suited for use on lakes. Driftless has several kayaks available for purchase as well.
Driftless Trading Post offers trip rentals for 3-, 4-, and 5-hour lengths. Rental includes shuttle bus transportation for both the people and kayaks and tubes to the launch locations upriver. They are considering getting into other transportation offerings as well.
When Lind was asked if they had any other expansion ideas, he responded enthusiastically. He would like to add to the fun at Driftless by building a fire pit and possibly a sand volleyball court. A big tent is already part of the location for outside dining and relaxing. He is interested in being open later in the evenings with the food and drink options.
Lind shared that they chose Peterson as a location because there was room to expand there. He has repeatedly heard comments from bikers that the section of the trail from Lanesboro to Peterson is the premier section of the trail.
Driftless is toying with the possibility of offering guided fishing trips. They have a supplier of locally made fish lures, and are interested in offering on commission other locally handcrafted art that fits in with the store.
Lind is planning on being open all winter, unlike many other tourism-based businesses. He acknowledged that he’ll need to be creative to stay open, but hopes to offer cross country skiing, and possibly skate skiing. Skate skiing could make use of the bike trail if it was groomed. Skate skiing allows travel at speeds up to 20 mph, recreation that draws many enthusiasts. Lind would like to explore creating a skating rink and possibly a snow tubing hill to take advantage of his tube supplies off season.
The team at Driftless Trading Post feel that they have the perfect location to grow a successful business — located on a premier section of one of the best bike trails in the state and on the Root River with its great kayaking, tubing, and fishing opportunities. With their combination liquor license, they are able to offer on- and off-sale wines and beers, as well as fabulous local foods.
Lind admitted spreading the word about the new business is one of his biggest challenges. He pointed to word of mouth as the most effective way, but added that it takes time for people to find out about it.
Lind felt this post-COVID summer was the perfect time to start their business. With the relaxing restrictions, everyone is ready for “The Summer of Fun,” and the Driftless Trading Post is ready to help make it even more fun! Spread the word!