2012 Thursday, April 12, 2012 forestlaketimes.com Vol. 109 No. 48 Jon Peterson is no stranger to disaster From a tornado to a fire, Peterson Companies’ story has a strong connection Cliff Buchan News Editor Jon Peterson is no stranger to disasters. The company he founded in 1997, Peterson Companies, benefited from one when a severe tornado ripped through St. Peter. He’s also been a victim of one when fire destroyed the company’s facilities in Chisago City a year ago. Peterson has seen both sides of disasters and Peterson Companies remains standing tall. It has been a busy year since flames destroyed the company’s headquarters on CR-22 on the border of Wyoming and Chisago City last March. This spring saw the completion of a new and larger company headquarters on the site of the original building which has been home to Peterson Companies since 1997. It was a tough blow for the company as the 2011 spring fire happened just as Peterson Companies was moving into its busy warm weather month construction and landscape projects. There was work to do, both on contracts and digging in to the rebuilding project. For Jon Peterson, it wasn’t a question of if the company would rebuild, but where. The company moved to a temporary location in Columbus and weighed building options before agreeing to rebuild on its existing site near the Peterson family farm where the business saw its start. The Peterson family has been on the land for 100 years. “I didn’t want to be the one to change that,” he said. Offers to build in Osceola, WI, were considered, but when an agreement was reached with Chisago County and Wyoming and Chisago City for future tax abatements, the decision to build on site was made. The 18,000 square foot two-story office and shop was built by Stone Construction with many Peterson employees handling specific parts of the project. The new facility is energy efficient with in-floor heat that burns waste oil generated by the company. “It’s all free heat,” Peterson said. “We went as energy efficient as we could possibly go.” A “green” complete with plant life and landscape display helps with the building’s cooling and provides a showcase for the services offered by Peterson Companies. The building is designed for expansion Photos submitted and by Cliff Buchan An aerial view of the new shop and office for Peterson Companies of Chisago City. At right, the new lobby with its creative designs. when the company reaches the point that more space is needed. Today, the company will employ 65-70 workers during the busy spring, summer and fall with 20 employees working year-round. The company was forced to replace inventory and shop equipment costing in excess of $500,000 following the fire. A Stormy Start Peterson, 34, a 1996 Chisago Lakes High School graduate, worked on the farm and drove truck after finishing high school. An area sod hauler hired Peterson to lay sod for extra weekend cash. “The weekend projects became week-long projects,” he said. “I had enough money for a down payment.” The down payment went to purchase a skidsteer in 1997. It was needed as Peterson took on snow plowing, landscaping projects and stayed with sod work. He hadn’t been at it long when the early and savage spring storms in March of 1998 pounded St. Peter. A contractor who had worked with Peterson recruited him to head to St. Peter to help with the clean up. Peterson see page 5A Entrepreneur fires up restaurant scene DJ Lowe serving burgers and shakes at his family-friendly eatery, DJ’s Grill Photo by Cliff Buchan Whitaker Buick GMC has won a national dealer of the year award for 2012. Whitaker Buick earns dealer of the year award Cliff Buchan News Editor A national honor has been won by Whitaker Buick GMC in Forest Lake. On March 6, Whitaker was notified it had won the DealerRater.com’s 2012 Dealer of the Year for the Buick and GMC brands in Minnesota. DealerRater.com is the nation’s leading online resource for car and truck buyers seeking thirdparty information on automobile dealerships. DealerRater.com features more than 41,000 U.S. and Canadian car dealers, and nearly 600,000 consumer dealership reviews. “We’re thrilled to earn this award as it’s based entirely on customer feedback” said Steve Whitaker, president of Whitaker Buick GMC. “We appreciate the confidence and loyalty of our customers, and all of our employees who make it a priority to take care of these customers every day.” The award is given for distinction in outstanding customer service based upon customers’ reviews of their dealership experience shared on DealerRater.com’s website. The 2012 award winners demonstrate consistently high PowerScore ratings for customer satisfaction, placing them in the top of their class. The PowerScore is determined using an algorithm that factors the dealership’s average DealerRater.com consumer rating and the total number of reviews written about the dealership during the 2011 calendar year. The dealership must also have at least 25 new reviews written on DealerRater’s website during the previous calendar year and an average rating greater than 4.0, with 5.0 as the highest possible score. Whitaker Buick GMC’s current score is 4.9. About Whitaker Buick Whitaker Buick GMC is a family owned and operated dealership that started business in 1954 on University Avenue in St. Paul. The dealership relocated its operation to Forest Lake in 2006, where they serve Twin Cities Buick and GMC customers through service, parts, financing, and new and used car sales departments. Whitaker Buick GMC is located west of I-35 and south of W. Broadway Ave. at 131 SW 19th St. Clint Riese Staff Writer Forest Lake’s newest restaurateur is serious about food, but he likes to keep everything else lighthearted. DJ Lowe sees his new establishment, DJ’s Grill, as an inviting neighborhood eatery where adults can relax with a beer or glass of wine, kids can lick a hand-scooped waffle cone and the whole family can enjoy burgers, fries and shakes. But not just any burgers, fries or shakes. Lowe’s menu puts a fun, fresh spin on some American standards. His menu features a dozen or so burgers, plus a rotating special. Some are infused with barbeque sauce and topped with onion straws, others are topped with pineapple and teriyaki onions, and the special may even incorporate chocolate chips and sprinkles. All come with steak fries that are cut and prepared fresh each morning. “It’s more of a familyoriented place,” said Lowe, a 2007 Forest Lake High School grad. “It’s a mix between an Applebee’s and a Perkins, but with really good food and good burgers, more of a char-broiler.” From sandwiches to giant salads, pasta to steak, or kids’ meals to appetizers, the full menu is available all day. Meals can be complemented by a shake, malt or one of eight flavors of ice cream, and washed down by an uncommonly large selection of wine and beer. When Pizza Man vacated the building off Highway 61 late last year, Lowe took the plunge. “This place went up for sale and I thought it was my time, so I just jumped in head-first,” he said. Along with his cooking background, Lowe’s jump to full-fledged business ownership has been eased by his experience with managing and scheduling, along with some ties to the restaurant community. “I’ve done this for quite awhile,” he said. “I’ve been to different food shows and I know a lot of people in the industry, so I have someone to talk to and kind of relate.” many would expect Lowe to be in over his head by now. Enjoying the Ride “Everyone doesn’t beIt’s been a friendly exlieve me that I did it myperience at the new esself,” he said. “‘Who are tablishment. Lowe enjoys you with? Did your parseeing customers surents fund you?’ No, it’s my prised when they learn he own thing. I’ve worked is the owner, particularly hard.” Skeptics would point out that several restauDJ’s Grill see page 5A rants have cycled through the building at 21450 Forest Blvd. N. in recent years. The Forest Lake native has more experience than most would guess, though, and he believes a good product will trump any location concerns: “Everyone says it’s a bad location, and it is tucked back a little bit, but I got a big, bright LED sign now, and the food – it’s family-friendly. It’s burgers and fries and it’s what people like.” So far, Lowe has been right. He has been meaning to organize a grand opening, but said business has been too steady to give him the time so far. Lowe took a job at The Cornerstone Pub & Prime in Wyoming at the age of 15, and it did not take him long to discover his love for the culinary arts. He worked for several years at Max’s Groove House, which, ironically, is the original tenant of the building DJ’s Grill now operates in. His chef career includes stops at a large resort in Montana and a child care facility in Shoreview, where he was responsible for feeding 80 kids per day. “I love cooking and I Photo by Clint Riese just love seeing people’s Taking the Leap D.J. Lowe with his famous one-pound Beast Burger faces when we bring out At just 23 years old, the food,” Lowe said. which is served at DJ’s Grill.