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Modeled after a historic lodge in Alaska, the Whitefish Lodge & Suites in Crosslake is described by owners as a luxury lodge that fills a void in the area. Kista and Jason Brunkhorst, majority owners, were married in Crosslake seven years ago. A friend introduced them to the area. After frequent trips, Kista from Anchorage and Jason from Thief River Falls, decided to make their home in Crosslake. When family members came to visit they found lodging was a challenge, particularly when mom and pop resorts giving way to residential development.
Jason worked as a general contractor and started Cabin Country Builders. Kista, who had a background in tourism in Alaska, worked with Shores and More Realty; neither had hotel ownership experience, but they had an idea for one, and Jason had been involved in building them. The two met in Alaska when Jason was there for four years working on a hospital project.
They explored a franchise but found they wanted something more unusual that offered guests relaxation and rejuvenation. Their ideas attracted couples as partners – Carl and Patti Steenberg and Chuck and Denise Hicks. Kista said the story around the lodge's construction brings to mind stories where good things seemed to fall from the sky.
They teamed up with an architect from Wisconsin with hotel experience. They broke ground in late October 2005 with a tight building schedule. When the project could still be described as excavated earth, they had wedding parties booking their banquet facility. They use area caterers and have a prep room with a banquet area that seats up to 300 people with two dance floors and two fireplaces. The facility can be divided into three different sections for smaller gatherings.
A week after plans were announced for the Whitefish Lodge, the owners learned Pine Peaks Lodge was going to be built a short distance down the road. Kista said the news was a shock at first but it forced them to "sharpen their pencils" and look at what their project called for. They decided to expand the banquet facility as a way to distinguish them from the competition.
Expectations for the future include an expansion to put in a spa. A deep partnership is expected when a proposed restaurant is built next door. An effort was made to use regional and area artisans and Minnesota materials in the building process. Giant logs in the lobby sitting area came from 138-year old trees salvaged from an area struck by a forest fire. The Lodge sits on the 11th green of Crosswoods Golf Course. The course delivers golf carts to the Lodge for guests. Nearby Rafferty's, just across Swann Drive in the Town Square, uses a golf cart for their pizza deliveries at the Lodge.
The Lodge was constructed so it sits a little higher than the parking lot, meaning car lights don't shine in guest rooms and guest views on that side are not focused on the parking lot, but usually rise above it.
"The guests are what make it so much fun," Kista has said, they've enjoyed the project so much they envision building more lodges in other communities."