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Old Log Theater Ramps Up for Fine Dining with Horizon

When the Old Log Theater in suburban Excelsior, MN wanted to expand their dining options for theater patrons, they turned to Horizon for a comprehensive back-of-the-house renovation.

The theater company—one of the longest continuously running in the nation—actually began in a log stable in 1940. As it grew and expanded, it added a cafeteria-style dining option for patrons. New owners Marissa and Greg Frankenfield wanted to upgrade to a fine dining experience, and also expand their revenue options with a lobby beverage service and on-site catering.

This required a complete remodeling of the back of the house, with an expanded prep area, a bigger, walk-in cooler and a new, showcase exhibition cooking line.

Jerry LaMere, Contract Design Specialist with Horizon, worked with the Frankenfields to develop a comprehensive equipment strategy that maximized flexibility and met their upscale expectations. LaMere designed an equipment plan, coordinated ordering, shipping, logistics and installation, and worked with the local trades, like carpenters, electricians and plumbers, to make sure everything ran smoothly.

“Things can look great on paper,” LaMere says, “but when the design meets the real world, things change. It's all about being flexible and creating solutions on the fly. Coordination and communication is a critical part of my job.” Installation logistics is where Horizon really shines, with its famed production-ready service. Other equipment distributors sometimes view their job as over when they deliver the equipment to the loading dock, but Horizon prides itself on getting the equipment all the way in place and production-ready for its installation customers. 

Over the years, the company has built a reputation as an exceptional turnkey equipment provider, coordinating installation logistics, like having professionals remove glass window panes so large cooking equipment can get to where it needs to go.

“Everybody forgets just how big cooking equipment really is,” LaMere says. “Designers and general contractors occasionally forget that a continuous 42-inch path from the exterior of the building to the interior where the equipment goes needs to be maintained. When walls start going up, it's easy to move one a little bit here or there, and pretty soon the cooking equipment doesn't fit. My job is to make sure that doesn't happen, by staying in continuous contact with all the players, doing field inspections and keeping the dialogue going.”

That personalized service is what impressed Marissa Frankenfield. “Jerry was here making sure everything we needed was taken care of. We had a problem with our dishwasher that was under warranty, which the manufacturer didn’t honor. We went around and around with them for a week. Horizon came out and fixed it in three hours. Problem solved. Anytime we have a problem, we give them a call and they’re out here,” Frankenfield says.

For the Old Log project, Horizon installed a large, walk-in cooler from Norlake, crafted an exhibition-style cooking line with French-top stoves. Installed Rational combi ovens and designed and installed an under-bar beverage service. Stainless table set-ups were also added for on-site catering, adding production flexibility for the theater.

Today, Executive Chef Matt Elless leads the theater's restaurant—Cast and Cru—treating patrons to a blend of “Modern American cuisine with an Asian twist,” he says. His well-heeled, boat-culture patrons tend to be very Minnesotan in their preference for more mellow fare—but Elless likes to mix it up with daring options, including a salmon with risotto made in a lavender stock and a sea bass with kohlrabi.

“They're very well-traveled,” Marissa says, “So they know good food.”