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‘Turtle River Chophouse’ takes off like a rabbit, restaurant to open in February

BAR 209 owners Brett (left) and Derek Leach stand inside their new business north of Bemidji at the old 71 Bar location. The circular bar, the Turtle River Chophouse, will open in February. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — The brothers behind Bar 209 in Bemidji are expanding north of town, building a new restaurant, the Turtle River Chophouse.

Brett and Derek Leach said they plan to open the new eatery in February.

The new spot has already generated a whirlwind of interest on Facebook as the restaurant’s page gained hundreds of ‘likes’ just a few hours after being created.

“We were really surprised by it,” Brett said. “We were just like, ‘wow’...”

Derek and Brett have fought their way up the food service food chain: as teenagers, they worked as a dishwasher and busboy, respectively. “(We) try to treat our employees right, give them what we wanted when we were employees,” Derek said.

The brothers said they agonized for more than nine months in picking a name before finally deciding on Turtle River Chophouse. The name captures the essence of the fare that will be served at the new restaurant, they said, but it will be more than just steaks and American food.

“We’re going to focus a little bit on steaks and seafood, but we also bring in some Asian-inspired theme stuff...some Mediterranean-style items, a lot of Italian-inspired items,” Derek said.

The new restaurant is going up only feet from where the old 71 Bar and Grill was partially destroyed in a 2012 fire, but the brothers opted to build a new building with a new foundation. The only thing from 71 Bar they’ll use is a post with a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sign, they said.

Recently, construction workers were installing electrical lines to feed into the bay of TVs that will hang above the bar, which forms an oval in the center of the building and will be surrounded by tables and booths.

The restaurant can host 185 patrons during the winter and an additional 150 people during the summer on the patio the brothers plan to build. The building won’t initially have a performance area for live acts, but the brothers said it’s designed so that could easily change if the public wants them to build a stage.

“If there’s a calling for it, and it makes sense, we’ll do it,” Derek said.

The public is already clamoring for the chophouse to get up and running. Andra Vaughn, who lives in Bemidji but works in Blackduck, said her commute takes her near the Turtle River site, which would make the future restaurant a great place to meet up with coworkers.

“I’m excited for the boys building it,” she said. “They’ve done such a wonderful job with their downtown restaurant, and the food is to die for. I can’t even imagine what this is going to be like.”

The brothers said they’d like to build more restaurants after the Turtle River location is done — although they’re not getting ahead of themselves.

“We want to be successful entrepreneurs, but you’ve got to take one at a time,” Derek said.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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