Pheasant Family Celebrates 50

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Between the lunch rush and the dinner dash, things empty out a bit at The Pheasant. Which is fine, because it gives owner Ron Olson the time to tell you a few stories.

“Oh boy, there’s 100 of them,” Ron said. 

One is about a roasting entire hogs.

“There really was no big secret.  Just a nice even heat and let it cook all day,” Ron said. 

It did the trick. The legendary cookouts brought in hundreds of people during parties Ron had there with his co-owner, Georgiana, who also happens to be the love of his life. The couple has spent 50 out of 62 years of marriage in this restaurant. 

“They thought we were crazy!” Georgiana said. 

In 1966, when the Olsons bought this place, it was a small gas station cafe.  The then Madison pizza place-owners weren’t hunting for The Pheasant, but Georgiana says someone talked them into it. 

“When the realtor called, I laughed. I said, ‘No! We aren’t looking for a cafe in Brookings!” Georgiana said.

After money exchanged hands, the Olsons got to work making some changes.  

“People wanted a good steak and potatoes and gravy and hot beef,” Georgiana said. 

To help establish a customer base early on, they became the only restaurant in Brookings — at the time — to serve morning, noon, night and every time in between. 

Ron: “I used to sleep in the back room overnight when we were open 24 hours a day and get up in the middle of the night and make somebody bacon and eggs.  Didn’t get a lot of sleep.”
Brady Mallory: “Would you trade any of those moments for more sleep?”
Ron: “No, I guess I wouldn’t.”

The young couple also gave the building a face lift – well, maybe a few, according to their grandson.

“I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was younger.  Sometimes I would be with my grandfather and with a sledgehammer and he would have just completely renovated one of the two restaurants they had at the time,” Michael Johnson said. 

“Well, Ron likes to do that. Sometimes he’d come down on a Sunday when we were closed and change stuff around. Cooks would come in on Monday morning and couldn’t find anything,” Georgiana said. 

Here is something you could always find at the Pheasant: family. Ron and Georgiana filled up their business with their kids, and then their kids’ kids. Johnson’s grandparents and his mom passed down a love for this place and he has been general manager for some time now. 

“The staff has really taken on the culture of family as well as our regular customers.  So, you know we say it’s a family business and for a long time that has meant more than just biology,” Johnson said. 

The Pheasant is the town’s oldest full-service restaurant, and has been around since 1949.  It is certainly thriving. Under Johnson and his assistant manager’s guide, the restaurant has added a wine club, retail shop, and ships olive oil and balsamic vinegar all over the country.  Despite the additions, The Pheasant has not lost its heart. 

“I can look around here, you know, we’ve been here so long.  A lot of our customers, sadly, are no longer with us. I can look out there and picture different people who used to be sitting at the bar. That was their table,” Georgiana said. 

To celebrate 50 years of the Olson’s owning the restaurant, their family recently surprised them with a party on November 19th.  Brookings Mayor Tim Reed declared the day Ronald and Georgiana Olson Day. Even during the afternoon lull, when nobody is around, The Pheasant is never empty.  There is really no big secret why.  Ron, Georgiana, and everyone here spends day after day filling the place with life and love. 

“After 50-some years, ain’t too many people who can match that.  But I know a lot of old-timers in the restaurant business who have come and gone and we’re still here.  It’s been a family affair,” Ron said. 

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