Al & Alma’s: A Lake Minnetonka Tradition Since 1956
The longest operating restaurant on Lake Minnetonka offers dinner and boat cruises.
Al & Alma’s Supper Club was founded by Al and Alma Quist in 1956. The mayor of Island Park and a firefighter, Al Quist cooked food for customers at his restaurant at night.
The family-run restaurant on Cooks Bay evolved from a grocery store. In 1920, the Chester Park Grocery store opened at the current site of Al & Alma’s. In addition to selling groceries and gas, the store also had fishing boats for rent.
“When Island Park was its own village, this was the only commercial area,” said Jay Soule, general manager of Al & Alma’s since 1996.
After the Quists purchased the Chester Park Grocery store in 1956, they transformed it into Al & Alma’s Supper Club.
“The family that owned it before Al and Alma lived here,” said current owner Merritt Geyen, who lives across the street. “Al and Alma also raised their three girls upstairs.”
From 1973 to 1983, Al & Alma’s second owners Eileen and James “Bud” Nolan offered boat cruises to customers before they had dinner at their restaurant.
In 1983, Merritt and Daryl Geyen purchased Al & Alma’s and added more charter boats. In the summer, they employ about 110 people—including some descendents from the previous owners’ families.
“We’ve owned it for 28 years, since September 6, 1983,” said Geyen.
Al and Alma Quist are no longer living, but Eileen Nolan is still alive and the Geyens keep in close contact with her and her family.
Echoes from the past
In 1997, the restaurant was remodeled and a loft for larger parties and special events was added. Geyen said Bud Nolan passed away around that time. Nolan’s wife Eileen gave Geyen a check and told her to buy something to remind her of Bud.
“This is his wheel, he started the charter boats in 1973,” said Geyen, pointing to an antique wheel on the wall of the restaurant. “Late at night I stand looking out and I see the refection of the wheel in all the windows.”
Some candleholders were given to the Geyens in honor of Al Quist. They are on display in the loft.
“He was a pretty big character at Al & Alma’s,” said Geyen.
Today, Al & Alma’s is open for dinner from early March to the end of December. Customers arrive by boat, car, bike or foot. Some customers come in weekly for food and conversation.
The Geyens also operate six charter boats. In addition to private cruises, they offer public cruises Sunday through Thursday nights all summer. They also offer lunch and brunch cruises on the weekends.
Most of the Al & Alma’s charter boats are Bluewater yachts, which were made in Mora, MN. Their newest boat, the 83-foot Bella Vista, was launched in 2010. The Skipper Liner yacht was manufactured in La Crosse, WI.
Soule said that the 300-foot Belle of Minnetonka, which was launched by James J. Hill on Lake Minnetonka in 1882, was also manufactured in La Crosse.
“The Belle of Minnetonka was the biggest boat ever on the lake,” said Soule. “The Bella Vista is the biggest boat in modern history.”
The Bella Vista was built low enough to fit under the Narrows Bridge so it can travel between the upper and lower lake. The ceiling has a skylight and the back of the boat is all windows.
“We made the windows double, so that you feel like you’re cruising right on the water,” said Geyen. “At night it lights up and it’s enchanting. People call me and say they follow the Bella Vista around.”
The Bella Vista has a capacity of 149 people. The handicapped-accessible yacht has two levels, three flat screen TVs and three restrooms.
On Friday, Sept. 16, local blues musician Debbie Duncan and her band will perform on the Bella Vista. Geyen hopes to have 80-100 people on the “Blues and Brews” cruise from 7-9:30 p.m. on Friday. Attendees will also enjoy dinner, an Oktoberfest beer sampler and dessert.
In the winter, the Geyens go skiing and to a warm destination for a few weeks before it’s time to open Al & Alma’s for another season.
For more information about Al & Alma’s, visit www.al-almas.com.