What was once lost is now found. The original St. Paul's Lutheran Church, on Sixth Avenue Southwest, has been carefully renovated and retrofitted into Perham's newest restaurant, 1894.
Owners Pam Osterfeld and Marcus Zitzow spent years talking about opening their own restaurant while they worked at Zorbaz, before finally committing to buying the 125-year-old empty church last spring.
After getting their feet in the door, Osterfeld and Zitzow planned on just turning the key and setting up shop right away.
"As we found those historical, original pieces of the building that we wanted to kind of restore, we were just like...this has now become a major project," Osterfeld said.
After knocking out a wall, they caught a glimpse of the original wood bannister above the choir loft.
"Literally when we got this place, it had an extended ceiling, carpet and about seven layers of stuff underneath it," Osterfeld said. "We just went one thing at a time."
In the meantime, Osterfeld and Zitzow started the Lakes Area Lunch Wagon last summer to establish a following for their food and get the word out about the new restaurant.
"People really got into following our lunch wagon last summer, and the community just really bought into showing up," Osterfeld said.
As progress slowly builds, Zitzow said people keep asking why it's taking so long.
"Well it takes a long time to bring a 125-year-old church and make it look 125-years-old again," he said. "Instead of what it was like in 1960."
Osterfeld has also felt the pressure to open quickly.
"A lot of people are like, 'Well you bought this a year ago, why aren't you open right now?'" she said. "It's like well, because we decided to do a lot more than we initially were going to."
But Osterfeld and Zitzow are hoping it will all be worth the wait, not only for the updated building, but the classic food items as well.
Osterfeld says the "Minnesota comfort food"-inspired menu will be the same as the lunch wagon with rotating features such as meatloaf, pot roast and pasta changing on a weekly basis.
All the menu items feature locally sourced beef from Zitzow's farm, Bongard's cheese and Locker Plant bacon.
After walking in the front door, two original double swing doors make for a dramatic entrance into the former sanctuary. The raised pulpit is now a stage with lights and a sound system for live musicians.
The church's oak pews were converted into the bar's counter and booth seats. The wood steps in the new staircase were cut and milled from trees on Zitzow's farm. A local lathe group also donated new newel posts.
The original wood floor's centerpiece is a wood burned "1894" logo that matches the glass lettering above the entrance.
"The front facade is iconic to the town," Osterfeld said of the antique lettering.
Upstairs the choir loft will also be available for parties of up to 30 people to rent. And the booth right underneath the bell tower creates a private space for a romantic dinner.
Local groups and friends have helped out everywhere, Zitzow said.
"A lot of people from town stepped up and helped us do things...It's been a family project," Osterfeld said as her parents were on hand to help out. "We've had a lot of people get behind us, who then gave us the confidence to know that we're going to be ok."
Zitzow said he's really nervous about meeting everybody's expectations, because that's the highest priority.
Osterfeld said she's looking forward to hosting their local group once again.
"We had such a strong following when we were at Zorbaz, it was like our family," she said. "Being able to have a new place for them to call home, is kind of what we're most excited about."
Osterfeld and Zitzow plan on having a soft opening during Memorial Day Weekend. Hours will initially be limited to Thursday through Sunday, but will be expanded later.