Rustic Oaks: A Successful Dakota Business Lending 504 Borrower
February 19, 2016
The story of Rustic Oaks began in 1895, when the Corneliussen family established their home on the banks of the Red River. The Corneliussen’s were immigrants from Norway and chose the site to establish a new life on the prairies of Minnesota. They built a small home during their first year on the property. By 1908, as their family grew, a larger home became a necessity and the large stand of white oaks on the property provided the means to obtain it. They harvested over 200 of those oaks and the proceeds of the sales provided the funds to build their home. Both the Corneliussen story and the history of Anne’s family, who built the first barn on this side of the Mississippi on a farm they called Oakdale, inspired the name of “Rustic Oaks,” the 40-acre event center located there today. Some of the original columns from the Oakdale barn now support the Rustic Oaks barn.
Dave and Anne Larson, founders of Rustic Oaks, wanted to own and operate a retreat and event center ever since they were married. “Our original dream was to create a space for family, non-profit and business organizations to celebrate and work in a peaceful and natural environment,” says Anne Larson. After years of looking for places to create their vision, the couple found the Corneliussen’s beautiful property nine miles south of Moorhead on Highway 75 along the Red River covered with breathtaking white oak trees. With high demand for something out of the ordinary for weddings and corporate events, the couple decided the property had the potential to become the unique venue that customers were looking for.
“We had been married 25 years when we found the property and decided we had to either give up our dream or make the leap.”
With the intention of fulfilling their lifelong goals, the couple purchased the property and began work on the site. Two thousand more trees were planted, a wildlife pond was created near the river, and the on-site home was restored to create a beautiful event center oasis.
Rustic Oaks hosts weddings, business meetings, retreats, reunions and other special events. Anne says, “We currently host about 70 weddings per year and a wide variety of retreats and business events.” At Rustic Oaks, couples are offered a one-stop place for their wedding. They can get ready, relax with family and friends, photograph their memories in unique spaces around the entire property, host their ceremony in scenic outdoor or beautifully decorated indoor areas, hold their reception and dance on-site, and stay in one convenient location provided by the guesthouse on the property. The facility consisted of the main house (used primarily for home base on wedding days), barn, small shed and garage when it was purchased by the Larson’s. In order to accommodate their larger weddings and events, the couple decided they needed to expand their available guest space in 2012. “A historic home from the region was brought in and converted into a 10-room guesthouse each with a private bath and a generous shared living space,” says Anne.
With help from Dakota CDC (now Dakota Business Lending) in partnership with Cornerstone Bank, the Larson’s used a Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 loan to finance the renovation of the new home to become their second guesthouse. The funds also allowed them to construct an addition to the barn, build a new bathroom facility and add a commercial kitchen in the structure. They did the renovations of the barn and house in the winter of 2012 and the barn was completed by May 1st. They continued to work on the house for the rest of the summer and hosted their first guests in the new guesthouse in September of 2013. The expansion gave Rustic Oaks a one of a kind space in the event center industry.
“It has put us at the forefront of wedding and event centers regionally,” says Anne, “We are able to offer our guests a totally unique and affordable experience for their occasion whether it be a wedding, creative retreat, celebration of life, or business gathering.”
The loan they received through Dakota CDC (now Dakota Business Lending) was a big factor in their success.
“We could not have done this building without them,” Anne says when talking about her experience with Dakota CDC (now Dakota Business Lending). “Their guidance and willingness to support this work made it happen for us.”
Rustic Oaks has seen incredible success since their inaugural season in 2010. Their first year of operations was better than the Larson’s original expectations and revenues have continued to exceed their projections throughout the years. The facility has filled every operational weekend with weddings since the first day of business. They have been showcased multiple times in Dainty Obsessions, a well-recognized regional publication. They were also recently one of two venues selected in each state for the title of Best Country Wedding Venue by an industry respected wedding blogger. On Wedding Wire, a wedding venue rating website, it is difficult to find a rating of fewer than five stars for Rustic Oaks. One of many satisfied newlyweds said, “We loved everything, from the ceremony to Dromstead Inn, to great bar service, and the barn was beautiful!” Not only are customers impressed with the venue, but it is clear that the staff at Rustic Oaks also impresses their customers. Through the pages of great reviews on Wedding Wire, it is clear that the staff makes every individual experience one of a kind and ensures that every part fits their unique style and tastes. A reviewer talking about the dedicated staff claims, “They were always available to answer my questions and made me feel heard and important. They were instrumental in helping my wedding day to run smoothly.”
Today, Rustic Oaks has a completed barn with French doors, chandeliers, original vaulted hay loft, and beautiful wood floors. Additionally, after renovations, the event center is complete with air conditioning, heat, new bathrooms, an elevator, a commercial kitchen and on-site bar. There is a four season porch in the back of the venue with wood flooring, fire places and skylights. Outdoor spaces for ceremonies, receptions, photo opportunities, children’s activities, campfires and more have also been added to the property. With a location easily accessible to the community of Fargo/Moorhead but far enough away to escape the urban traffic, Rustic Oaks is an ideal wedding and event get away.
“It definitely wasn’t easy, but it is such a great feeling of accomplishment. We had a dream, and we actually did it,” Anne says, “The best part for us is the enjoyment that this place offers to all of our guests.”