Michelle and David Lanari both grew up on the Iron Range, and both fell in love with Lake Vermilion. But finding a way to raise their family up on the lake has been a bit more complicated.
David’s job, as a senior technology manager for larger corporations, meant the family often moved around the country. The couple built a cabin on Vermilion’s Pike Bay, across from the spot where David’s childhood family cabin had been, where the family was now able to spend the summers with their six children.
“This has always been our home base,” said David, who said the family had moved eight times since they first married.
David said they have always intended to retire to their cabin, and when the opportunity to buy Pier 77 Mini-Golf came up, they realized that the business was a perfect fit for their large family.
Pier 77 is a unique, Minnesota-themed mini-golf course that winds in and around a wooded hillside, on Highway 77. Each of the courses 18 holes has its own theme that relates to northern Minnesota history, wildlife or culture. The course is beautifully-landscaped, and offers a nice shady retreat on a warm summer afternoon.
“We’ve always enjoyed golfing here,” they said. “And we liked stopping by for ice cream.” Michelle said she had always thought about running a small coffee shop. And last fall, when the couple stopped by Pier 77 for some ice cream, and a chance to say farewell for another season to owner Sharon Smith, they learned the business was for sale.
It just all clicked.
The family, with five kids still at home for the summer, including two of college age, had enough hands and energy to run the business. The business would provide a way for their children to earn money to help with college costs, and when the couple was ready to retire, it was a business that would help support them when they moved to the lake, yearround.
The family has renovated the interior of the storefront, enlarging the coffee shop area. Pier 77 will be open daily, starting at 9 a.m., and will stay open until dusk.
The shop now offers free wi-fi and a public computer station, so lake residents can stop by, check their email, and relax with coffee. The shop serves gourmet coffee and tea, soft-serve ice cream, sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, and donuts and other pastries to have with your coffee. The shop will offer t-shirts, mugs and some smaller gift items. They noted that Sharon Smith’s Flea Market, located right across the highway, offers plenty of shopping opportunities.
In addition to morning coffee, the Lanaris said adults can bring their families, and sit and visit while the youngsters play a round of mini-golf.
“We hope to become a social spot,” they said.
The children are also excited about the family’s new business venture.
Maria, 21, noted that the business is close enough to their cabin to make it easy to sneak out onto the lake for part of the day.
“We’ll also get to visit with lots of people,” she said.
The two youngest boys, Alex and Jon, will be playing Little League in Tower this summer, as well as helping out at the course.
Nine-year old Alex is the family’s golfing ace, but all the children enjoy playing the course.
Maria just finished her senior year at St. Mary’s University in Winona, majoring in philosophy. Christopher, 18, will be a sophomore at University of St. Thomas, majoring in mechanical engineering. Ben, 16, will be a 10th-grader, and hopes to attend St. Thomas, like his brothers. Jonathan, 12, will be a seventh-grader, and the youngest family member, Alex, will be a fourth-grader.
The oldest of the six, Mark, is getting his master’s degree in physics at UMD.
The course will be open daily from 7 a.m. until dusk. To learn more about Pier 77 you can visit their website at www.pier77minigolf.com.