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In Perham, a historic church-turned-restaurant honors and preserves its past

Finding Minnesota: Perham’s historic church-turned-restaurant
Finding Minnesota: Perham’s historic church-turned-restaurant 03:26

PERHAM, Minn. - When it comes to starting your own business, sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. That's what two business partners did in Perham.

In this week's Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us how they transformed a beloved church into a beloved restaurant.

"Growing up here back in the day, it was very much a small town," said Pamela Osterfeld.

A big part of this small town was an old church on Sixth Avenue. Built in 1894, German-Lutherans had to do chores before they got to hear the gospel.

"The first members to show up at the church would have to bring a load of wood in if you were the first few members of the church before Sunday service," said Marcus Zitzow.

In its heyday, sermons were done in both German and English. But over time, the church faded. It changed hands more than once, and a few years ago there was even talk of tearing it down.

That's when Pamela Osterfeld and Marcus came into the picture.

"There are a couple people that still have a hard time swallowing that this used to be a church, and that now you can buy beer here," said Pamela.

On a wing and a prayer, they bought the building and slowly but surely transformed it into a restaurant, getting a history lesson along the way.

"It was like a time warp, you know. And we were pulling up the stage floor, and you see little papers, and I think some were even like sermons that were from the old services in German," said Marcus.

With help from family and friends, Pamela and Marcus made it their mission to keep things as original as possible, including the double-swing doors and pews.

"Most people are just a little bit blown away by it. They're like, 'Whoa, so I'm sitting in a church, drinking a beer at a bar made from old church pews,'" she said.

It's safe to say their customers are their congregation. The window frames, the pulpit and the flooring are still intact. The choir loft and the bell tower are pretty much the same as well - minus the Sunday singing. It has a "Game of Thrones" feel to it.

"That's kind of why we went with the high-backed chairs," Pamela said.

Pictures of weddings once held here can be found throughout the restaurant. There's even a collection plate, where all the donations go to help families in need. The menu consists of burgers, pizza, wings and a specific grilled cheese with a divine power.  


"The grilled cheese is just, it's great, but if you want to jack it up, we call it 'Make it Heavenly.' You add chicken and bacon to it," said Marcus.

Even finding a name for the restaurant became a blessing in disguise. Someone suggested they serve bar-b-que ribs and call it "Holy Smokes." But then Pamela and Marcus got a sign during renovations.

"Pulled the dirt away and etched in the cornerstone was 1894. And when they were doing the dirt work, it fell out. And it was like, that's got to be a sign," Marcus said.

And so the church-turned-restaurant is named "1894."

Churches have been known to save people. But in this case it was the people who saved the church.

"The stories make the place, and the people from around here that were baptized here, confirmed here, went to school here, went to church here, their parents were married here," said Pamela.

"It tugs at the heartstrings a little bit. And I'm like all the people that have been there for generations, you want to see that still be a thing for them," said Marcus.

At one point the church was called St. Paul's Church, which is why you'll find a St. Paul's salad on the menu.

Most of their food is locally grown, and they are open Thursday through Monday.

Pamela and Marcus recently received an award from the Daughters of the Revolution for preserving and saving the church.

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