MANKATO — The place that's hosted countless wedding receptions and parties, held weekend buffets and even seen a few golf balls bounce off its roof will be serving its last meal soon.
"We've got 44 years in doing this. It's time," Harry Musser said.
At the end of December, he and his wife, Wendy, will close Applewood restaurant and put the business up for sale. If there are no buyers, the building will be razed and the land divided into eight or so housing lots.
Musser said it's been a good run but admits changes have made destination restaurants like theirs less popular than in the past.
"There aren't many like it anymore. They're all either downtown or up on the hill. People used to like to get in the car and drive a while and go out to eat, but things change."
Musser said the heydays of their restaurant careers were when they ran Harry's Hofbrauhaus in the Burton Hotel, which stood near where the Veteran's Memorial Bridge comes into Mankato. His parents ended up with that business through some bold entrepreneurship by Harry's brother and sister.
The Musser children grew up working in their parents' restaurants, first in Mason City and then Austin. When Harry's two siblings went to college in Mankato in 1963 they stopped at the Burton Hotel to use the restroom. They saw a beautiful restaurant with satin tablecloths and fine china.
"They asked if they were having a banquet or something and the guy said, 'No, the restaurant's been closed for a year,'" Harry said. "So my brother and sister leased it and ran it while they went to college."
When their father's restaurant in Austin was damaged by fire, the family moved to Mankato and ran the hotel restaurant, with Harry and his mother running it after his father died.
He changed the name to Harry's Hofbrauhaus in 1971. "I spent two years in Germany in the service so I knew about German food."
Knowing urban renewal was likely to target the Burton Hotel for demolition soon, Harry and Wendy bought Applewood in 1976, then known as Southview Country Club. The restaurant came with a short nine-hole golf course.
They bought Southview from the late George and Jo Pehrson.
Wanting to focus more on the restaurant and move away from the country club name, they renamed the restaurant and golf club Ironwood. They continued to operate the golf course for another eight years with the lower level of the restaurant serving as a pro shop.
"The big, beautiful bar we have upstairs now was the bar that was down in the pro shop," Wendy said.
In 1984 they sold the golf course land to Dr. Bill Wood, who developed it into housing.
Harry admits he didn't understand the golf business.
"I wasn't a big golfer. I didn't realize golfers like long courses. I loved this one because it was short."
The course, which was featured in a story in Minnesota Golfer magazine this year about closed golf courses, was quirky and challenging.
There were steep wooden steps and chairlifts among the ravines and the elevation change 90 feet from the highest to lowest point on the course. On one hole, golfers shot blind over a hill onto a green. "You'd hit it up there and you couldn't see the sucker," Harry said. "You weren't ever sure if you were going to hit somebody. People were supposed to ring a bell when they left the green, but they didn't always do it."
Toward the end, they were losing $10,000 a year on the course and knew they had to sell it.
"I'm happy we had it. Our five kids loved running around those ravines. It was great for them. You'd send them out the door and not see them for five hours. I just loved raising kids," Harry said.
They will continue to open at 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and for brunch at 10:30 a.m. Sundays through the rest of the year.
While Harry is active in sports at the YMCA, including handball and swimming, he said he's unsure about a life that doesn't involve work every day.
"Every time I have a day off and then I think about seven days a week, 24 hours a day of that, I think I might go crazy."