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Family affair: Sisters heed the call

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 12/06/2012 2:36 PM

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PIPESTONE, Minn — Imagine getting a call from your parents suggesting that you come back to the United States to manage a hotel and restaurant. When that call came Vanda Smrkovski was investigating life around the world as a woofer, learning of and working in different cultures.

She and her sister Rina told their parents they would consider the suggestion. A year later, while she was in Morocco, the family made the decision to purchase the business that had been in bankruptcy court since 2009.

The sisters have immersed themselves into restoring the historic Calumet Inn. Work started on Aug. 29.

The Calumet Inn was built in 1888 from quartzite from nearby Jasper. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was meant to be a grand hotel to meet the needs of travelers from seven railroad lines that passed through Pipestone.

The magnificence and the historical significance of the building aren't lost on the Smrkovski sisters. They consider it a privilege and trust to have been handed such a monumental task.

Forty-one rooms, which are still open for travelers, are decorated with vintage or antique decor. The once beautiful red carpet will eventually be replaced with new red carpet to denote its place as a lush, fabulous destination.

The restaurant portion had deteriorated from its former opulence. Once a few repairs were made, it was time for a new paint job. Instead of just making the decision alone, the Smrkovski sisters placed paint samples in the lobby so customers could vote on their favorites.

The color chosen was a champagne gray, well suited for the Victorian atmosphere. Some areas are painted in their own concocted color simply referred to as Calumet Red.

The menu is unique to Calumet Inn with names linked to historic Pipestone. Breakfasts include the Three Maidens and Pocahontas. The $7.95 Calumet features an omelet with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, spinach, cream cheese, topped with Hollandaise sauce and served with toast or fresh fruit.

The menu cover provides a history of the Calumet Inn.

A customer favorite for evening dining is the Walleye Almandine for $13.95. The Minnesota walleye is broiled with Amaretto butter and sliced almonds. The new owners have introduced a Sunday buffet that features Midwest soul food, said Smrkovski. Three different meats, mashed potatoes, an egg bake, muffins, vegetables and an assortment of fruits and yogurts highlight the buffet.

Describing herself as a flexitarian, customers can order off the menu or make their own choices. Business has been growing in the few months under the new ownership. Grooms' dinners, Bible studies, Kiwanis Club meetings and a Christian Women Group's meeting are held. A room offers space for private dinner parties. Christmas party reservations are being booked.

Vanda is excited about bringing back some of the wonderful traditions that the Calumet Inn was once known for.

— Renae B. Vander Schaaf