Hiawatha’s Restaurant now open

Courtesy photo Sanja Roberts recently opened Hiawatha’s Restaurant. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open seven days a week.

RAPID RIVER — Hiawatha’s Restaurant has opened for business in Rapid River at 9911 U.S. 2. The business opened Aug. 1 and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and baked goods, according to owner Sanja Roberts. The restaurant also features breakfast pizza, pizza slices, breakfast sandwiches, a take out menu and its special Hiawatha burger.

Roberts was born in the former Yugoslavia, but her father was discontent living under a Communist regime so he escaped and sought asylum at the Canadian Embassy in Vienna, She was raised in Toronto. She began a career in nursing.

“At the top of my career I fell in love with a man from the U.P. and moved to Rapid River to be with him… Then I fell in love with the U.P. and finally found the home I was always looking for,” Roberts said.

Although she moved to the Florida Keys, she returned to the U.P. in 2015 and purchased Garth Bluff Grocery in Rapid River.

The original structure at the Hiawatha’s Restaurant location was formerly LaFond’s All Season Motel and was built in 1950. It had several motel rooms and a bait shop. The motel shut down in 2012 and went for sale. Roberts purchased the facility in 2016, not knowing what she was going to do with it and without any plans.

“People often came to Garth Bluff Grocery asking me for cooked food and I wasn’t able to facilitate their needs at the store. I decided to turn the motel into a coffee/sandwich shop. The zoning committee in Rapid River preferred that the building maintain its current structure and wanted the integrity of the building to be preserved, so I had to turn a motel into a restaurant, which was challenging. We begin cutting out interior walls so you could access the rooms from the inside. The project evolved and the next thing I knew it was turning into a full service restaurant with indoor seating for 36 and outdoor seating as well.”

Roberts began collecting different taxidermies for the facility, with animals indigenous to the U.P.

Hotel room number 5 is being turned into a gift and souvenir shop and will hopefully be stocked by Christmas or early next spring. There are also plans to put a large deck in back for more seating next summer.

“We tossed around many different ideas for the name of the restaurant but nothing seemed to feel right. One day I was driving by a Hiawatha National Forest sign and I knew I had to name the restaurant Hiawatha’s Restaurant. It seemed like the natural thing to do. I read the story of Hiawatha many times and I love living here. I know it’s just a story, but I think it’s a very important story and I’d like to believe there’s truth to it,” Roberts said.

The restaurant is open seven days a week. A grand opening party is planned Aug. 26.