Local support key to making dream come true for new owners of Branding Iron in Preston

CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER Becky and Dale Koch are the new owners/proprietors of the Branding Iron in Preston, which will be opening soon.
By : 
Charlie Warner
News Leader

“It’s impossible to really state just how appreciative we are,” said Dale Koch last Saturday morning. “This whole thing has been overwhelming, we were really in shock.”

“We still have a hard time believing this. It is so flattering that people would have such faith in us to provide this support,” Becky Koch added.

What the husband and wife team were talking about was the groundswell financial support a group of Preston-area residents has provided to the Kochs, enabling them to purchase the Branding Iron Restaurant in Preston.

The very popular dining destination, which had served southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa for more than four decades, closed its doors on Jan. 19 of this year. Former owners Steve and Allyson Bahl had been trying to sell the restaurant with the panoramic view for a number of years, to no avail.

In mid-December, the Bahls announced they planned to close the Branding Iron. Dale and Becky, who had a combined 56 years of employment at the restaurant, wanted to somehow buy it from the Bahls. When the Kochs’ four children, who had all worked at the Branding Iron when they were younger, heard it was closing, they encouraged their parents to look into acquiring it.

About this time, Becky had a recurring dream for four straight nights that she and her husband owned and were operating the Branding Iron. While having coffee with Dale on a Saturday morning, she told her husband about the dream.

“He said, ‘You won’t believe this, but I have been having the same dream,’” Becky recalled. “We decided right then and there that we needed to contact Steve and see if there was a chance that we still might be able to buy it.”

Dale told Steve that he and Becky were very interested in purchasing the Branding Iron and asked what his bottom dollar was. Dale learned that the Bahls were in the final stages of selling their business, and it appeared as if it was a done deal. There’s an old saying that nothing is final until it is final. And the pending business transaction fell through.

About a week later Gary Hellickson approached Dale and informed him there was a group of Preston-area residents who decided to pool their resources and help the Kochs buy the Branding Iron. Hellickson and Ron Gehling were two of the main organizers of “The Friends of the Branding Iron” group. Several meetings were held in January and the group grew to a point where sufficient funds were raised to make the purchase a reality.

“These people aren’t investors, but actually lenders,” Dale pointed out. “This was a purchase contract that was set up by a lawyer, which is being amortized with a repayment schedule.”

“I don’t think this would have been possible had it not been that we were going to be working with Dale and Becky,” Hellickson said. “They have so much experience, working in all facets of the business. So many people in the Preston area wanted to see the Branding Iron continue to exist and Dale and Becky were the people who can make this happen.

“I was amazed at how quickly we were able to put this together,” Hellickson continued. “The Branding Iron has been an institution for so many years. It is a very important business for Preston and the surrounding area. We are very confident that Dale and Becky will be successful.”

While the pledges were all made in January, it took a while to complete all the financial and legal work required to make the purchase a reality. But things have now progressed to a point that the Kochs are just waiting for one last minor issue with the state to be cleared before they can announce their opening date.

“Everything has been approved, but we’re still waiting for the final approval with the state for our liquor license,” Dale explained. “The city approved it and all the paperwork was submitted to the state. We were told that should have all been completed last week. We can’t order our liquor until we receive the official go ahead from the state. And because we can’t order our liquor, we can’t order our food or schedule help because we don’t have a specific opening date.”

Once they receive state approval, it will take about a week to complete all the ordering and have their staff in place.

The Kochs plan to continue with pretty much the same menu, the same prices and the same hours. The hours will be Tuesday through Thursday from 11:15 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11:15 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Kochs have completed some minor changes to the dining and bar areas but, at least for now, won’t be making any major renovations to the interior.

“We want to see how this goes and walk before we run. But we are planning on adding an outdoor dining area. We plan to construct a patio on the south side, overlooking the valley,” Dale stated. “We will dig it into the hill and put in a retaining wall so it will be lower than the inside dining room and won’t block the view for diners eating inside.”

Dale and Becky couldn’t hide their enthusiasm and excitement when talking about their impending business venture. “This has been our home for so long,” Becky said. “Our four children worked here, Dale and I met while working here years ago. Many of our family members have also worked here.”

“Becky and I want to thank not only the lenders for showing their incredible support, but also all of the people who have voiced their support, offered to help in other ways and told us how happy they are that the Branding Iron will once again be open.”

When it happens, opening night at the Branding Iron will be a dream come true for the Kochs.