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Bronk's staff reflects on televised makeover

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Erik and Tracy Brunkow have owned Bronk's Bar and Grill in Lake City for 11 years.5 / 5

Standing on the corner of Center Street and Lakeshore Drive in Lake City, Bronk's Bar and Grill looks exactly as it did three months ago.

Step inside the doors, however, and you'll immediately spot a dozen new features.

The restaurant got a very public makeover in September when Food Network's "Restaurant: Impossible" came to Minnesota. The television show aims to transform struggling eateries into successful dining destinations on a budget of just $10,000.

Although it was several months ago that crew members and Bronk's staff worked tirelessly for 48 hours to revamp the restaurant, it wasn't until last week that the episode aired on TV.

Bronk's owners Erik and Tracy Brunkow said they had seen "Restaurant: Impossible" dozens of times before deciding to apply to be on it, but they still weren't entirely prepared for what would happen to them.

"It's a little bit harsher in reality than it is on TV," Erik Brunkow said.

In addition to criticizing the food, style and staff at Bronk's, "Restaurant: Impossible" host Robert Irvine dug into the owners' personal lives and exposed issues in their relationship.

"It's hard," Brunkow said. "Being in a struggling business kind of messes with your family life."

If customers continue to flock into Bronk's the way they did immediately after the remodel, it won't be a struggling business for long.

Brunkow said the restaurant had more than 200 hungry and curious customers on the night of the big reveal.

"And we served them all in a matter of three and a half hours," Bronk's chef Ryan Nardinger said. "It was daunting, to say the least."

For the most part, the reactions from customers were positive regarding the updates. Brunkow said the first thing many people would notice was the restaurant's detailed tin ceiling.

"The funny thing is we've had that from Day 1," he added.

Something about the new paint colors, lighting and decorations that Food Network selected for the establishment help draw visitors' eyes upward.

"That's why I said they know what they're doing," Brunkow said.

While the ceiling remains the same, Bronk's now has fresh carpet, more signage, pendant lights, new bar stools and different upholstery on its booths. The crew also eliminated a small stage from one side of the restaurant.

But that's not all.

"They completely threw away our menu," Brunkow said.

The former Bronk's menu featured more than 80 items, most of which were frozen. After the makeover, the menu was pared down to 20 items -- no thawing necessary.

The changes in menu and preparation have made work a little more challenging for the restaurant's kitchen staff, but Nardinger said it's a challenge worth having.

"I love the fact that we're making things fresh now," he said.

"All the food has just been great," waitress Dolly Nibbe said.

Bronk's ditched frozen chicken tenders and now has staff members breading fresh chicken. Additionally, things like ketchup and other condiments are made from scratch.

"Even our salad dressings are homemade now," Nibbe said.

While Bronk's employees were excited about the fresh changes, customers have been a little less receptive.

They weren't necessarily complaining about the taste of the new dishes, but a few creatures of habit were disappointed that things like quesadillas, nachos and the signature Bronk's burger could no longer be ordered.

"Some people actually would walk out" because they simply preferred the old stuff, Brunkow said. "Well, the old stuff wasn't paying the bills."

To help satisfy all customers, Bronk's has since added 15 of its former dishes back into its menu.

After a couple of months of solid traffic coming through the restaurant, Brunkow said business hit a lull in November.

Things are getting busy again because the episode recently aired, but since it's hard to tell whether "Restaurant: Impossible" will prevent the establishment from struggling in the future, Brunkow said he isn't sure he would go through the entire process again if given a second opportunity.

"I'll let you know."