SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The pandemic forced business owners across the country to make tough decisions, with more than a few closing their doors.

However, there were success stories, including a small business in Sioux Falls that transformed into one of the city’s most popular restaurants — Chef Lance’s on Phillips.

Chef Lance’s on Phillips opened in September, 2020, and has been hosting monthly wine dinners from the get-go.

“Let me see your hand in the air if you’ve never been to one of these things before. OK, perfect, do you guys like peanut butter? It’s peanut butter/jelly, mac & cheese (laugh),” Chef Lance’s on Phillips Owner Lance White said.

The five-course meal on this night includes stuffed tomatoes, zucchini lasagna, and prime rib wellington. Tickets sell out in a matter of hours and months ahead of time.

“They’re here every month, every month, every month, as soon as the tickets come out they buy a ticket,” White said.

Lance White is the chef behind the complete menu, and everyone has a favorite, or two.

“Honestly, it’s their Tuscany burger, which won the Burger Battle. I have to admit that I’ve had it probably five times, also their cheese curds. I’ve had their cheese curds pretty much every time I’ve ever visited, which is too many to count, and I’ve had to run a lot to work off the calories,” Brandon, South Dakota customer Austin Hogie said.

“The beef wellington. That’s my favorite dish. I order that a couple times a week. I’m spoiled,” Chef Lance’s Manager Brandon McCormack said.

Brandon McCormack is the manager at Chef Lance’s and says the work environment is as good as the food.

“Lance and Jenny are amazing people to work for and it makes us work harder,” McCormack said.

“I work with Lance, right next to him, on the charbroiler cooking steaks and burgers,” Chef Lance’s Sous Chef Aidan Brown said.

20-year-old Aidan Brown is a prep cook and sous chef, and learns something new from Chef Lance every shift.

“He’s so open in sharing with his knowledge of cooking and he’s just a really good teacher at it. He doesn’t make it hard to learn, he makes it really easy and a really good learning environment for everybody that’s involved,” Brown said.

Nearly three decades ago, it was White learning the ins and outs of the restaurant world.

“When I was 16 I knew everything that needed to be known and so I dropped out of high school and then when I was 17 I got a job at a restaurant and it was, as they say, love at first sight. I absolutely fell in love with the white chef coat, the checkered pants, the fast paced environment and the creativity that we could have playing with food was so much,” White said.

He dove in fork first.

“A lot of my friends were paying thousands of dollars to go to school, I was getting paid to learn something that I knew I wanted to do for a long time,” White said.

Chef Lance never attended culinary school, but did make a brief return to school in 2010.

“I took some business courses, because I knew how to cook but I didn’t know about that part of the business,” White said.

Fast forward to 2020, White is now a business owner, including a family meal delivery service, and that’s when everything changed.

“When the pandemic hit, the rest of my business died, all catering died, the cafe had to be closed down. I was teaching cooking class at the time, those were cut off, and so really the only thing that we had was the family meals but that went through the roof, like 500%,” White said.

With a single aspect of business suddenly booming, White was in the market for a bigger kitchen. A space along Phillips Avenue caught his eye.

“This has a walk-in, it’s got an automatic dishwasher, instead of scrubbing them by hand,” White said.

Lance was sold, but was done with meal delivery.

“My wife really thought that this would be a beautiful place for a restaurant, and I happen to agree with her,” White said.

And Chef Lance’s on Phillips has been a success since day one.

“There’s a lot of nights that we’re completely full with reservations and we have to turn people away, which surprised us. I never thought it would be that busy but it’s a good problem to have,” White said.

Chef Lance’s captured the DTSF Burger Battle championship earlier this year, and before that the Pork Showdown. The chef says he embraces the competition in and out of the kitchen.

“My wife and I are competitive with each other, I mean don’t watch us play ping pong,” White said. “It’s not necessarily saying we’re the best place ever, it’s just people liked our dish and it’s extremely humbling knowing the competition you’re going up against too, to see all that talent and then go how did we do that? How did we come out number one,” White added.

Chef Lance may not have all the answers, but there’s no doubt he’s enjoying the ride and so are his customers.

White says he’s always looking to the future and may expand his hours to accommodate more customers, but has no interest in opening a second location.

Click HERE if you’d like to check out the menu or make a reservation at Chef Lance’s on Phillips.