West Wind whirls past 30th birthdayThe West Wind Supper Club burst onto the River Falls food scene July 1, 1981, after current owner Kevin Pechacek partnered with his brother, Craig, and dad, Clair, to buy, remodel and open it. Pictured talking to West Wind owner Kevin Pechacek are Carole and Ken Johnson from Lake Havasu, Ariz., who said they come to The West Wind each time they visit their grandchildren in St. Paul. Debbie Griffin photos
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
The West Wind Supper Club burst onto the River Falls food scene July 1, 1981, after current owner Kevin Pechacek partnered with his brother, Craig, and dad, Clair, to buy, remodel and open it.
Pechacek says the business is sometimes like assembling a big puzzle. He credits employees and regular customers for sustaining the bar and restaurant’s success.
“My father named the place,” said Pechacek, adding that his dad liked spending time in the west.
The three men had been trying to think of what to call the restaurant formerly known as the Village Inn when Pechacek’s dad commented on the phone that he’d soon be “blowing in” from a western destination.
A little while later, he called back and proposed the name: The West Wind Supper Club.
At the time, Pechacek cooked at the Coachman, Craig cooked at the former Walvern (now Coach’s) and Clair owned Mel’s Midtowner.
The family partners nearly bought the Walvern but opted for the bigger building and more parking.
Pechacek remembers a big fire on Halloween in 1983 and said it forced The West Wind to close for four months: “That’s when we did a whole remodeling of the place.”
The owner said he really enjoyed working with his dad and brother and later, both his sons, too. He and his brother bought out their dad in 1987 then Pechacek bought out his brother in 2000.
The West Wind, along with the River Valley Catering business Pechacek acquired in 2008, employ about 50 people.
“It’s the employees,” he said. “Without them I couldn’t even begin to run a business.”
Mindful that the puzzle has many parts, Pechacek remains grateful to seasoned “veterans” like Sue Carlson who’s been there 29 years and Ed Miller, who celebrates 24 years behind the bar this fall.
He greatly values long-time dining room manager Lois Cernohous, executive chef Anthony “Tony” Leone, “su” chef Adam Williamson and other cooks.
Pechacek’s wife Amy maintains the websites, keeps menus updated and does much else to help. He’s thankful for her as well as catering manager Betty Brueske, head server Amber Pechacek and many others.
Pechacek said he encourages everyone to think of their part of the work as their own little business, knowing that if they do well, so does the restaurant.
“Teamwork, common sense and communication, he said. “If we use those three things, we’ll be OK.”
He says he tries to be easy to work with but admits that he doesn’t like repeating himself and has been known to tell people to stop whining.
Pechacek said just as crucial as employees are guests; they may also be the aspect of the business he enjoys most. He delights in people like the Lewises, who celebrated their 40-, 50-, 60-, and 65-year anniversaries at The West Wind.
What started as a joke ended in naming a room after the couple.
He’s seen employees’ and customers’ kids applying for work -- often for a first job, and sometimes for a career. The owner jokes that if he’s still there to see the kids’ kids applying, he’ll know he’s been there too long.
Pechacek says he starts with quality product -- fresh and whenever possible, locally grown.
“A lot of times that is a little more expensive,” he says about buying top-line products, adding that customers say they’d rather pay more and get great food.
Pechacek said he buys fair-trade coffee, produce, bread, buffalo, and some desserts locally. The West Wind menu tempts diners with options ranging from pizza to lobster, as well as salads, appetizers and slow-cooked soups.
The eatery chose long ago to continue a popular mainstay: The buffet -- including lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, plus Sunday brunch.
“They’ve been in fashion and out of fashion,” said Pechacek, “but we’ve stuck with what we know.”
The owner said he’s also “stepping up” dessert because he personally considers bread and dessert important parts of a meal. He and his associates figure: Why not make The West Wind a destination for desserts such raspberry peach crisp, key lime pie, and chocolate lava cake?
Pechacek says both food-service entities are financially healthy but adds, “We really struggled when the smoking ban went into effect.”
He’s aware of the advocates’ claim that business would increase but says the hard numbers prove that untrue.
The owner admits to feeling resentful about being told how to run his business and says the industry’s biggest challenge is regulation. He believes what he’s heard about it being worse for restaurants than nuclear energy.
“It’s good to be your own boss,” he said, “but the bad part is, everything is on your shoulders.”
The owner spends at least part of every day at The West Wind -- anywhere from 40-70 hours per week depending on the week’s events. He considers it a priority to make time for visiting with guests in the dining room.
Pechacek says he’s thankful for a business-boosting agreement with the new owners of the Hudson and River Falls golf clubs to prepare the food for their clubs and catered events.
How The West Wind markets itself has changed much over the years.
Though he agrees with Carlson that the best kind of advertising is what people tell each other, he can think of a long list of other ways the restaurant promotes itself.
The West Wind sends an electronic newsletter; maintains two websites; puts dessert photos and other information on Facebook; sends email offers to 2,000 persons; includes lots of live music; and organizes other events.
Pechacek said he also believes in serving the community, for example through Rotary and participating on the Kinnic Falls Board, membership with the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust and various sponsorships.
He thinks The West Wind will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a fall event.
Meanwhile, Pechacek appreciates being able to say he still has fun after 30 years, interacting with guests and coworkers, being a part of people’s big life events, and more.
Pechacek said, “I enjoy coming in here every day.”