ORR- Folks might have given a skeptical look to Brett and Alaine Brodeen last year upon discovering that the couple was looking seriously into buying a lake resort, right as a global pandemic began …
ORR- Folks might have given a skeptical look to Brett and Alaine Brodeen last year upon discovering that the couple was looking seriously into buying a lake resort, right as a global pandemic began hammering the hospitality industry, but that’s OK. Brett and Alaine had questions of their own, too.
“We did have to think about it,” Brett said. “We had to weigh the pros and cons and think about life for our kids and the future.”
“It was a big decision because it was a huge life change,” Aileen said. “I never thought I’d live in a town so small. That was probably one of the things I was nervous about. Before we decided on this, our faith is important to us, and we prayed a lot about it. And we really felt like this is where we were supposed to be.”
And now a little over a year later and well into their second full tourist season at Island View Resort on Pelican Lake, the Brodeens and their four daughters – Evelyn, 15, Corra, 12, Anelise, 10, and Esme, 7 – have taken to life running the resort with vigor and joy, as reflected in online reviews by recent guests.
“The owners are incredible and made our stay this year the best yet!” one customer wrote.
“New owners, same giant fish! The new family running the place has been fantastic,” wrote another.
A seed planted
The Brodeens are former educators, and for 15 or 16 years had been vacationing twice a year at resorts across the Minnesota North Country and Wisconsin, Brett said. On a rainy day while vacationing on Lake Vermilion a number of years ago, they decided they should “check out this Pelican Lake place,” Brett said. That’s when they first came across Island View Resort.
“We drove in and Alaine and our girls and my mom loved the beach,” he said. “My dad and I loved the fish house and marina. And as we drove up, it just kept getting better and better. Then we met (former owners) John and Lisa Matthews, and they’re super great people and really good hosts, and we started vacationing here.”
The Brodeens vacationed at Island View for the next three years. The thought of taking over the resort began that third year with what Brett first assumed was some joking around with John.
“He said, ‘I suppose you’re going to change things when you own this place,’” Brett recalled. “And I laughed and said, ‘Yeah, it’s a dump, John,’ which obviously it’s not. It’s beautiful. And he goes, ‘No, seriously, I want to talk to you about this.’ So, we started talking.”
“It was never something we thought we would ever do,” Alaine said.
But the Brodeens’ life in Superior, Wis. had changed significantly after Brett left the school district where he had been working as an elementary school principal in 2017. Right after he was finished with school, Alaine was diagnosed with breast cancer, with months of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to follow. Alaine had been schooling their children at home, and that continued as the family found ways to make ends meet. Alaine’s treatments were successful, but the young family found themselves searching for new directions.
“There wasn’t a good reason to be there anymore,” Alaine said.
So, the Matthews’ interest in selling the resort became a matter of being in the right place at the right time for a new opportunity for the Brodeens.
Things were falling into place for the transaction early in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit, and it didn’t take long for banks to become wary of hospitality investments.
“The two banks we were talking to said, ‘We’d love to be partners, but we can’t right now,ʼ” Brett said. “That was a curveball.”
Then life hurled another curveball their way. Alaine had a recurrence of her cancer and would need additional chemotherapy through the summer, right when they would be taking over the resort.
“We were like, ‘Can we really do this?’” Brett said. “But we were ready for a change.”
So, John and Lisa Matthews developed an alternative financing arrangement with the Brodeens, and after 16 years of ownership they turned the keys to the resort over to Brett and Alaine in May 2020. The Brodeens were committed to making it work, knowing the rest of the family would have to pick up the slack to accommodate Alaine’s treatments and reduced energy levels.
Full speed ahead
Quite familiar with the variety of amenities and activities resorts offer, the Brodeens fell into that aspect of the work naturally, but not everything came easily that first summer.
“Our skills were working with people in hospitality, and I can fix things,” Brett said. “But not bookkeeping.”
“That was probably the biggest shock for me,” Alaine agreed.
And while Alaine got right to work trying to master QuickBooks, Brett was in for a shock of his own.
“It seemed like everything was breaking down all the time,” he laughed. “I didn’t know what had been fixed when. Now that we’re a year into it I can tell you what things are starting to wear so I can keep my eye on them. Now we’ve got a good handle on it.”
Creating excellent guest experiences has always been the Brodeens’ top priority, and that’s perhaps illustrated best by an example in which they went the extra mile for someone who never stayed a single night at the resort. A man named Scott Haugen related the tale in an online review.
“My family and I did not stay at this resort, but did experience the kindness and generosity of the owners,” he wrote. “On the way up to Voyageurs National Park for a few days of camping, the axle on our fishing boat trailer disintegrated just as we pulled into Orr.”
Believing they were stranded, Haugen said they stopped at Island View to see if any of the 13 cabins were available. None were, but when the Brodeens learned about Haugen's predicament, “They immediately went to one of their storage sheds and retrieved a boat trailer for us to use so we could continue north. When I returned the trailer, they refused that I pay a rental fee. Now that is incredible,” Haugen wrote.
While the first season was largely about learning the ropes, the Brodeens have gradually started to put their own personal touch on the resort, whichw officially became theirs earlier this month. Over the winter, Alaine and a teacher friend turned nearly three football fields worth of fabric into new curtains for the cabins. They turned to Ryan’s Rustic Railings to replace some of the furniture. They’ve added apparel and gift items in the lodge, including handmade pottery mugs customized for the resort. Walkers and bikers have new paths to travel down, and the Brodeens have fulfilled a wish of their daughters – the lodge now sports a new ice cream shop.
“The first year with COVID restrictions it didn’t make sense, so they’re really excited we got to open it up this year,” Brett said.
The transition has been made easier, too, because of family connections in the area. Brett’s father, Randy, grew up south of Cook, the oldest of six kids. As a child, Brett came to visit his grandparents during summers.
“It’s fun to be up here and run into people that are like, ‘Oh, Brodeen – I went to school with your uncle or your grandpa,’” Brett said.
The Brodeens are also grateful for the reception they’ve received from the other resort owners on Pelican Lake.
“They have been really awesome,” Brett said. “If we get in a jam, they help us out. If we’re looking for boats, we’ll just trade back and forth. If we’re full and someone calls, we’ll point them in their direction, and they do the same thing. It’s really nice. I think that the resort association and the people in it all want to work together to make Pelican Lake a better place.”
For more information about Island View Resort, call 218-757-3469, view their webpage at islandviewresort.com, or look for their page on Facebook.