If there’s one thing Eric Labraten wants people to know about Hutchinson’s newest restaurant, RiverHouse Kitchen + Drinks, it’s this:
“I mean, the biggest thing is, we’ve been asked — I’ve been asked — probably 5,000 times when we’re going to open,” Labraten said with a big smile. “So I would like to … put it in big, bold letters. We are open. We can finally say that.”
RiverHouse opened Monday after a four-day “soft opening” in which invitation-only customers gave the owners, along with the kitchen, bar and wait staff, a chance to fine-tune their approaches for the official opening day, paying crowd.
It’s been a long time coming, Labraaten acknowledged, but the opening calendar has changed due to the extensive renovation of the Main Street building that housed the former Hutch Café.
“We went into it (thinking) we wanted maybe a little restaurant down here and turned it into a complete, complete remodel of the building,” Labraten said. “We ran into a lot of problems with a 100-something-year-old building, so one thing led to another and we ended up having to do more and more, which is good. Now we have a beautiful building and we are ready to go.”
Labraaten and Ray Zeuli are longtime friends, and when Hutch Café was put up for sale last year, the two saw an opportunity to combine their diverse experiences and talents.
“I’m a business owner … Ray has been running restaurants for about 25 to 30 years,” Labraten said. “It’s a good combination, a good team, he has restaurant experience and I have start-up business experience.”
Labraaten owns other local businesses, including ACC Midwest Transportation and Auto Xpress, but he says he’s been interested in Hutch Café for a long time because of its location in the heart of downtown and his friendship with sisters Angie Jergens, Maureen, Zimmer and Teresa Plombon — who owned the business.
When they decided to sell, Labraaten and Zeuli were ready and the sale was completed last June. The Hutch Cafe closed, and the new owners set about transforming the building to create their own restaurant — although, Labraten said, their original plan had grown significantly. That’s why their original reopening target of October 1, 2021 was pushed back.
Labraaten and Zeuli first envision a family restaurant that will operate on the first floor. That’s still the vision, but the partners quickly decided that the longer-term goal of a second-floor bar and rooftop eatery should be part of their immediate renovation plan.
Although it was quite a project, Labraaten and Zuli are pleased with the transformation the building has undergone and are excited to get people to enjoy the atmosphere.
Although it looks completely different from the old Hutch Café days, RiverHouse Kitchen + Drinks aims to maintain the family-friendly atmosphere and even some of the approach to food of its predecessor – while bringing in new things, like that rooftop patio and music Live .
“We wanted to keep the Hutch Café feel a little bit downstairs … and we wanted to provide an atmosphere for our family and some of the older customers,” Labraten said. “And then upstairs we knew we wanted a bar, so more of a fun, exciting atmosphere with live music every weekend, just trying to have a different place where people can go and relax and have a chat and a drink , maybe watching live music, but a different scene than a traditional bar.”
Labraaten described the menu at RiverHouse Kitchen + Drinks as American cuisine, with some surprises. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as late-night entrees, the restaurant will feature a wide selection of breakfast items for the morning crowd, and pasta, burgers and steaks for lunch and dinner. Zeuli also plans to bring in fresh fish specialties such as red snapper on the weekends, along with catfish and other specialties.
“It’s going to be a very unique tasting food,” Labraten said. “I mean, it’s going to taste different than anywhere else in town, no doubt about it. The way we prepare our food, from French toast to waffles, is simply different than everyone else’s. And we’re very proud, very excited to be able to provide good food to the community.
“Different and affordable food … that’s important to us,” he added. “Ray takes a lot of pride in what he does. I think people will be amazed at how good the food is.”
Excitement about the new restaurant goes beyond customers. Labraaten said they received more than 250 applications and started their first week of operation with 65 full and part-time employees.
“We’re thrilled with the staff we’ve hired,” Labraten said. “We really understand the need to have the three things – good service, you have to have good food and you have to have good prices. I think we definitely checked all those boxes.