Marissa Frankenfield remembers riding a school bus to see Peter and the Wolf at Excelsior’s Old Log Theater in grade school.
“I fell in love with theater because of that day,” she says.
That memory came to mind in 2013 when Marissa passed the Old Log property nestled in the woods along her walking route. After that jaunt, Marissa and her husband Greg were approached by the Stolz family—owners of the Old Log for 73 years—about purchasing the property.
“It just sort of fell into place,” says Marissa.
One of the oldest continually operating theaters in Minnesota, the Old Log opened in 1941 as a summer stock theater. The stuff of local legend, it featured up-and-coming actors in weeklong runs, often playing to standing-room-only crowds—in a barn. It wasn’t until 1960 that the beloved stable became a scene shop and the year-round theater was built. Now, the Frankenfields’ excitement about the property—and desire to preserve a piece of local history—has brought on another complete renovation of the space.
“My wife had a dream of opening a restaurant, and I had a dream of owning a theater,” says Greg. “This is our second act in life.”
The Frankenfields realized that, before they could make aesthetic updates, they needed to set the stage with a new roof, structural reinforcements and the replacement of rotted wood.
“They have higher standards in 2014 than they did in 1960!” Greg says.
A coat of eye-catching red paint on the exterior welcomes guests. Next came updates to the layout and functionality of the space.
“The very first thing we wanted to do was create a branded restaurant that operated alongside the theater as an equal,” says Greg. So the Frankenfields enlisted Kim Anderson, vice president of Shea Design, a local firm specializing in restaurant renovations.
“The Frankenfields bought these 11 gorgeous acres in Greenwood… not to redevelop it, but to take this icon and reintroduce it to the next generation of theater-goers,” says Anderson. “Our goal was to showcase the view of the natural acreage, to juxtapose the energy of live theater with a new and unique dining space. We wanted to modernize the space but keep the cabin feel.”
The theater also received updated sound and lighting equipment and an extended proscenium that can handle modern musicals with large casts and special effects. The Frankenfields and Old Log’s artistic director Kent Knutson are now able to develop an eclectic lineup of plays, with space and technology no longer limiting factors.
“We’re keeping the charm of an old, classic theater,” says Anderson, “but bringing in high-tech elements to enhance the experience for the audience.”
The restaurant and theater, which reopened in August, operate in tandem within a multiplex-style building with a shared lobby and look. With the old barn wood still taking center stage, designers have added knotty birch tables that provide a natural feel. New energy-efficient light fixtures include a dramatic raw metal candelabra that gives a warm, nostalgic glow. Tile from local BonTon Design covers the walls in the open kitchen area, visible beyond a feature wine wall. Designated bar space—a first for the Old Log—will be an energy zone for the building, and special considerations will keep sound from interfering with the theater.
Patrick Scot Moore was named executive chef of the new Cast & Cru restaurant. He brings years of international cooking experience—and a master’s degree in organic chemistry—into the kitchen. Cast & Cru was designed to give visitors a unique, upscale dining experience even if they never set foot in the theater.
Moore will give Minnesotans a taste of the Mediterranean with Spanish tapas-esque small dishes and will incorporate interesting proteins alongside more familiar ones. He’s developed a four-course prix fixe menu that begins with an amuse-bouche, in addition to a traditional menu and bar food for those who need a quick meal before a show. Even patrons who need to eat and run will be able to order duck poppers, lamb carnitas tacos and burgers made from elk or bison.
The food will be as eco-conscious as it is pleasing to the palate.
“I’m very into sustainable products. Our proteins won’t harm the earth,” says Moore. An organic garden outside the theater provides in-season vegetables. “I’ve worked on yachts where I’ve had to build menus based on the strange ingredients I could find in port… it’s an amazing thing to be able to grow and source the ingredients that you want to use.”
Moore will feature local ingredients when possible and find them in a wider radius when needed. For example, Sashimi-quality seafood will be shipped directly from Honolulu for dishes like Moore’s famous cioppino.
The theater’s décor and menu have changed, but one thing that hasn’t is the heart of the place.
“We’re trying to preserve the Old Log and keep the quality of the shows and services, but just give it a little updated flair,” says Marissa. Her husband agrees. “The Stolz family created a magical place, and we’re excited to share that with people,” he says.
Old Log Theater’s upcoming productions include A Charlie Brown Christmas and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Season tickets, as well as event and banquet information, can be found at oldlog.com.