The new owner and chef of the Lemon Wolf Cafe, Jon Arriola, wasn't supposed to end up in Minnesota. Although he's owned the Beaver Bay restaurant for a little over a month, he said he planned to head to Montana.
"After 20 years of teaching college, I decided to call it quits and cast everything out," Arriola said. "My plan was to build a log cabin somewhere and build a little store or diner so that I could operate that when I wanted to. I could hang a shingle out on the door that says 'Gone fishing.' And it was supposed to be in Montana."
Back in Texas, Arriola decided when he quit teaching he wanted to move somewhere that had snow and cold. So he magnified a map of all the northern states that border Canada and plastered it up on the wall. He turned his back and threw a dart. It landed in between the cities of Fortine and Whitefish, Montana.
"I had my U-Haul all packed up and I was getting ready to head out so I could be up there by Sept. 1 when a buddy of mine called," Arriola said. "He said, 'Hey, I just built a cabin in Tofte and I was wondering if you'd cabin-sit for me this winter."
Arriola insisted he was heading to Montana until he called the area Chamber of Commerce and found out the road to Fortine was inaccessible due to snow coverage.
"I called my buddy back and said, 'OK, where in the heck is Tofte?,'" Arriola said.
On his way up to Tofte, Arriola said he fell in love with Lake Superior. He remembers sitting out on the hood of his truck to watch the lake and he "was just mesmerized." He stayed in the cabin overlooking the lake and got to know his neighbors.
"I had a couple of neighbors that I would cook for, especially when it snowed like it did," Arriola said. "And one day they said to me, 'Jon, maybe you shouldn't go to Montana, but buy a restaurant and stay here and cook for us.'"
Shortly after, the same neighbor texted Arriola a link to a news story about the Lemon Wolf's former owner, Susan Scheradella, looking for a new chef and owner for the cafe. Arriola came in for lunch the following day.
"When I walked into the cafe that day, the decor was eerily close to what I drew up in my plans for my little diner," Arriola said. "That pretty much sealed it for me. I asked Susan what she wanted for it. She didn't believe me, as she'd had others interested in the past and it hadn't worked out. But I knew this was meant to be."
Arriola spent the next few months working with Scheradella to take over the business. He learned the recipes and promised he'd keep the menu the same. After he took ownership, he started practicing the dishes. The cuisine is more Scandinavian than what he's used to cooking, which is mainly Italian and authentic Mexican.
"And there were a few things I hadn't had before, like lake trout," Arriola said. "I mean, we have trout in Texas, but I've never had lake trout look that huge and, after cooking it, taste that succulent."
He's eager to try his hand at dishes such as herring and local salmon. He's also started baking to ensure the pies that attract some customers continue in the same fashion.
"The regular customers who come in here now seem to understand that there's a new cook," Arriola said. "And while the menu is staying essentially the same, they also know this new cook is not a northern boy. But I think I have their quasi-stamp of approval."
The Lemon Wolf Cafe is located at 711 E. West Towne Rd. It's open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Arriola plans to only be open Sunday for special occasions, such as Mother's Day.