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Owner tells Minnesota restaurant's history in new cookbook

John Hanson purchased Spanky's from the late Chuck Minge and his wife Brenda in 2005.

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Spanky's Stone Hearth owner Josh Hanson is proud of the new 250-page commemorative book about the restaurant that was published in mid-December. The book includes more than 100 recipes from the restaurant as well as stories from its staff and chefs past and present, patrons, friends, farm-to-table food providers and Hanson himself. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)
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VERGAS, Minn. — Though Spanky's Stone Hearth has a 75-year history in rural Vergas, owner Josh Hanson has only been a part of it for about a third of that time.

So when he decided to write a book about the restaurant, its history and, especially, its recipes, the Vergas native solicited a lot of help — from chefs and staff past and present, longtime guests, farm-to-table food providers and more.

"Many people had their hands on this to make it come to fruition," said Hanson, referring to the book "Spanky's Stone Hearth: Family – Food – Tradition," which was released in mid-December.

The beautiful hardcover volume contains 250 pages of full-color photos, stories and recipes. Copies will be available for purchase at Hanson's first official book signing, this coming Tuesday, Jan. 14, at Mainstream Boutique in Detroit Lakes.

"I think it turned out great," said Hanson, who admits that while he did some of the writing himself, he also had many other contributors, including his wife, Megan, with whom he has two young children: Huck, 3, and Walker, 10 months.

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In the acknowledgements at the front of the book, Hanson thanks his wife and sons "for loving me unconditionally." He also dedicated the book "to all patrons, staff and friends of the restaurant — past, present and future."

He said it's the loyal staff and patrons who have contributed most to the restaurant's success, as Spanky's Stone Hearth is "not necessarily the easiest place to find," nestled as it is off the shore of picturesque Rose Lake in rural Otter Tail County.

"It's a gratifying feeling when people walk in our doors, knowing they sought us out," Hanson said. "It didn't just happen that they found the place ... we've become more of a destination."

Though the book contains more than 100 recipes compiled from chefs past and present, as well as long-standing guest favorites, Hanson said "it's as much a coffee table book as it is a cookbook."

"One of the driving factors for the cookbook was to pay homage to the chefs of the restaurant, as well as to our local providers," he said, noting that it includes their stories alongside some of their favorite recipes.

While he has been the owner of Spanky's Stone Hearth for the past 15 years, Hanson worked there on and off for about 10 years before that, both during his years at Perham High School and after graduating in 1996.

Though he attended college for a couple of years after graduation, Hanson said the collegiate environment simply wasn't for him, and he worked in construction and at other restaurants in the area before purchasing Spanky's from the late Chuck Minge and his wife Brenda in 2005.

Since taking on ownership of Spanky's, Hanson has also been involved in a few other local ventures, such as launching the Skal Bar & Grill in Vergas as well as the nearby Rose Lake Glamping, a cottage rental business.

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"This wasn't my first venture, and it likely won't be my last," he said, but Hanson has no plans to move on as he enjoys both the short commute (about 2 miles from his home on Rose Lake) and the fact that many of his relatives still live in the area.

"I feel fortunate that I'm able to live where I work," he said. "I get to live, work and play in the beautiful lakes country of Otter Tail and Becker County."

If you go

What: Josh Hanson book signing

When: 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14

Where: Mainstream Boutique, 833 Washington Ave., Detroit Lakes., Minn.

More: Josh Hanson recently published the coffee table book "Spanky's Stone Hearth: Family – Food – Tradition," which is available for purchase at his restaurant in rural Vergas as well as at the book signing. For more information, call 218-334-3555, email info@spankysstonehearth.com or visit www.spankysstonehearth.com .

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