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'Sweethearts Weekend' bash to mark Pier 500's 10th anniversary

Pier 500 owner Andrew Kron and his wife Jenna share a moment at one of the restaurant's back tables. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)1 / 2
An August, 2015 photo of owner Andrew Kron in Pier 500's First Street patio seating area, which features an idyllic view of the St. Croix River and the city’s signature “Hudson, Wis.” arch. (Star-Observer file photo)2 / 2

Pier 500 debuted 10 years ago on Valentine's Day and grew into downtown Hudson's go-to dinner spot for romance, so of course it's pulling out all the stops for its big birthday bash this weekend.

"This has always been known as romantic place for two -- we've had a lot of Valentine's Day marriage proposals here over the years," notes founder Andrew Kron.

"We've had so much support from the community since we started, so we're having a big celebration. We're not just focusing on one day; we've got something special going for four."

The highlight of the restaurant's "Sweethearts Weekend" Feb. 11-13:

Saturday night's free public "Cheers for 10 years!" tent party in the parking lot, with complimentary food, beer and wine; recognition of the restaurant's past and present "team members" -- and, appropriately for the season, a full compliment of commercial heaters to keep the crowd warm.

The tent party starts at 9 p.m. Feb. 13, topped off with a free concert by renowned Twin Cities recording artist G.B. Leighton, who was named one of Billboard.com's "Top 10 Country Artists to Watch" in 2014.

Kron said the team-members recognition -- at an open house before the tent party begins -- will be especially meaningful, both for him and the hundreds of employees who have worked at Pier 500 over the last 10 years.

"We were just talking about how many of our staff members have gone on to be doctors, attorneys and other kinds of careers, so it will be nice to see them circle back," he says in an interview at Pier 500, accompanied by general manager Tom Hommes.

"We're only as good as the people here. They're the foundation of everything we do and everything we've accomplished here."

Two special menus

The birthday celebration will also include a special menu Feb. 11-13 featuring the following taste-tempters specifically designed for couples:

--Two cocktails: the "Cupid's Arrow," a blend of vodka, chambord and cream; and the "Fruit and Brut," made with raspberry sorbet and champagne.

--Three appetizers: Pan-fried jumbo lump crab cakes with herbs, spices and mustard sauce; spiced pepper-mix calamari with cocktail sauce; and black angus beef tenderloin and blue cheese fondue, with roasted tomatoes, ciabatta croutons and maytag cheese sauce, $16.

--Three entrees: Chilean sea bass pan-seared in basil walnut oil with grilled asparagus and dirty rice; fresh seafood penne pasta with canadian lobster, shrimp, walleye, pacific cod and grana padana cheese; and hand-cut filet and asiago-crusted scallops with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus.

--Two desserts: Red velvet nine-layer cake with creamy frosting and vanilla bean ice cream, and New York style cheesecake with raspberry-cinnamon sauce.

The regular menu selection will be available as well.

Dinner seating begins at 4 p.m. Feb. 11-13, followed on Thursday by live music from Chris Kroeze at 8 p.m.

On Valentine's Day Sunday, the weekend celebration will continue at 3 p.m. with another special menu featuring a full range of romantic appetizers, entrees, desserts; and cocktails, wine, beer and champagne.

For details -- or to make dinner reservations for any of the Sweethearts Weekend dates -- go to the Pier 500 website at www.pierfivehundred.com or call (715) 386-5504.

"There's a lot of good vibes going on about this," Homes says of the celebration.

Adds Kron: "A lot of other restaurants and businesses downtown have been congratulating us. We have a good, friendly competition with each other, and we drive each other to be better -- and that's good for all of our guests too."

Hometown boy

Kron bought the former Riversides Restaurant at 500 First St. in late-July, 2005, and opened a week later under the original name, which was retained for the first six months.

That gave Kron and his team time to assess "how the building did or didn't work" for their vision of the restaurant. Afterward, the business closed for six weeks for an interior and exterior renovation before reopening as Pier 500 on Feb. 14, 2006.

As Kron noted in an August 2015 Star-Observer interview while crediting his parents, Jim and Mimi, "who were scrubbing with me right up to our opening day;” “Day One” partner and executive chef Scott Foster; Hommes, manager Laurie Papineau and many, many others:

"You ask me about my secrets of success -- well, it certainly wasn't me. My learning curve was a pretty long one."

Then there was Kron's Valentine for life, his wife Jenna.

"She's been with me from day one too. Without her, I never would've made it," he says.

"She's the office manager; she does all the marketing and social media; and she helps me with everything I can't figure out. She really has done everything here."

The couple has two kids -- four-and-a-half-year-old Taylor and 1-year-old Landon.

Kron also credits his lifelong local roots with pushing him to give his customers the very best.

"I used to pump gas at a Freedom Valu Center when I was 14 years old, and I also worked at my dad's bicycle store," he notes.

"I’ve lived here my entire life, so every plate goes out to somebody I probably know -- that's one of the things that makes the whole atmosphere so personal here. So sure there's an added level of stress that goes along with starting a recognizable business in the town you grew up in -- you've really got to deliver.

"But that's also a big reason why we've been successful. I think if we hadn't had that from the beginning, it wouldn't have worked."

Pier 500's success also paved the way for the rest of Kron's restaurants that followed: the Tavern #4 and #5 in Eden Prairie, La Veda and Terza in Rochester; and the new Chester's across the street from the Mall of America.

And Pier 500's future?

"For the last 10 years, we've continued to reinvest in this restaurant, and I will never stop investing in the people and the building -- that's a never-ending process," Kron says.

Notes Hommes: "In this business, if you ever stop, you're done."

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

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