Vern could recall the day his father came up with the slogan The Stable – A Unique Dining Experience as clear as if it were yesterday. It was a wet and cold Friday night in December, when the family headed into town to the Tinsel Theater to catch a re-release of Holiday Inn. The movie must have made quite the impression on Mr. Valkotukka, because in the middle of the film, when Bing Crosby’s character reveals his plans for the Holiday Inn, Mr. Valkotukka leaped to his feet and cried, “That’s it!,” to the surprise of all in the audience. He sat down as quickly as he had arisen, and remained on the edge of his seat through the remainder of the film.
Afterwards, the family could hardly wait to hear what could have possibly caused such an outburst from their usually reserved father. Mr. Valkotukka had scarcely made it into their station wagon when he exclaimed, “A restaurant that’s only open on the holidays! We’ll make a big to do of it. We’ll have lots of music and space for dancing. We’ll highlight the chicken dinners and maybe even expand into other dishes. We’ll open for several days around the holidays to allow plenty of guests to get to experience the meals, but we’ll also have some breaks in between. The farm will be there to support the restaurant with the fresh grown food.”
In that instant, the family knew this was the right path forward, and thus The Stable was born. The structure built during the reindeer experiment proved the perfect place to house the restaurant, with minor modifications. Originally, the setup was quite simple. Tables for around 150 guests. A small stage for a band or choir. A small wooden dance floor surrounding the stage and a modest kitchen just off to the side of the building.
The initial menu consisted of the now famous chicken dinner served family style, with little variation. Entertainment often consisted of a local church choir or family band. The waitstaff were all kids from Tinseltown High School who had all previously worked on the farm.
It was a small operation, but it proved quite successful. Guests who had loved Mrs. Valkotukka’s chicken dinners on the farm would bring family and friends out for a holiday celebration to enjoy the meal together. Quickly word spread across the region and The Stable often found itself completely booked, with reservations well in advance during the busiest holiday seasons. Finally, the Valkotukka family had found their niche in the town.
As Vern looked surveyed the now empty restaurant this Christmas Eve, he was amazed at how much the place had changed over his lifetime. The restaurant could now serve closer to 250 guests in a single setting in the main hall, with a few private dining rooms tucked away for party rentals. There was even a room now for a private chef’s table experience. Though the décor remained largely the same, the entire structure had been revamped and rebuilt to update the space from a nearly outdoor, truly rustic experience, to an enclosed, climate-controlled dining hall. The stage and dance floor had been expanded and equipped with up to date sound and lighting equipment. The kitchen had been greatly expanded and converted into a kitchen worthy of the restaurant’s now signature status.
Yes, Vern was truly impressed with how far this little restaurant had come over the years. And in the quiet of this Christmas Eve, before the rush of the crowds arrived, even before his staff arrived, he paused to take a moment to thank God for all He had brought his family through and the blessings they had received.
Vern was thankful for the opportunity he had to cook and to explore a wide variety of foods. The Stable had long moved beyond the traditional chicken dinners and the menu was his alone to create. Each holiday had a different and unique menu, and he followed his inspiration wherever it led him. With the chef’s table seating in particular, he was able to truly experiment and to put the lessons he learned from his time in New York and London after high school to use. The guests who reserved that space knew they were in for a treat.
Vern knew how far his family had come and how different their Christmases were now. But this Christmas, it would be a memory from his childhood and a recipe he created there that would have a lasting impact, both on Vern himself and his guests.