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Roadside stand to offer wood-fired pizza and more northeast of Brainerd

When the bike trail went in, Mark Lipson wanted to open a small food stand on his property. Now his creation, The Happy Otter on Iverson Road, is ready to open any day. Jamie Olson / Forum News Service1 / 3
The Happy Otter, with its wood-fired pizza and other offerings, is expected to open soon giving neighbors in the Riverton and Trommald areas, along with Cuyuna Lakes recreational users a new option. Jamie Olson / Forum News Service2 / 3
The Happy Otter food stand with its wood-fired oven is ready to tempt neighbors and trail users with cinnamon rolls in the morning and with the personal 10-inch pizzas. Jamie Olson / Forum News Service 3 / 3

BRAINERD, Minn. — Some thought it might be a tiny house, but instead of a living space inside the small structure there is basically a commercial kitchen and a wood-fired pizza oven.

Soon those walking, biking or kayaking in the Riverton and Trommald areas will have a new option to grab a pizza to go after an outing. Mark Lipson, a carpenter by day, has been building the structure after his regular work hours.

Welcome to The Happy Otter.

Technically, the "building" is considered a mobile food vendor, although Lipson said he has no intention of moving it. The designation allows him to be open 21 days in one spot, which he is hoping he'll be able to stretch to get in every weekend through a summer.

His plans are to fire up the wood-fired oven and tempt those with the aroma of baking breakfast bars or cinnamon rolls in the morning, and with the personal 10-inch pizzas, built for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between. The menu will be seasonally inspired with vegetables and gluten-free options, along with beverages like Dunn Brothers coffee—a good iced coffee, decaf and whatever is the brew of the day, he said—as well as soft drinks, perhaps Blue Sky or Izze brands. Lipson hopes to grow tomatoes and basil nearby. He wants to add bike racks, picnic benches and eventually a pavilion.

The hope is to attract people who are on the nearby bike trail, or mine pit lakes or those living in the neighborhoods in Irondale Township, to stop by.

Lipson, who spent time in the area since the 1970s, stumbled on the wooded property along Carlson mine pit in 1988 and immediately knew he had to buy it.

"It was incredibly beautiful," he said. "I couldn't pass it up."

Lipson has been in the construction trade for 40 years. His day job is working for Land's End construction out of Crosslake. As a teenager and young man, he said he worked in restaurants and was a cook in Aspen, Colo. Through it all, he's a self-described foodie. He's already thinking of the many things possible with the wood-fired oven such as artisan breads. With the nearby trail and recreation use, it seemed a natural location for a small business stand. The idea of the pizza came when others in the area took a survey and presented Lipson with the most requested item—wood-fired pizza.

Lipson said he may not have gone that direction without the survey results, but he can see a lot of variety and options with it and many great flavor combinations. As people have watched his building project during the past year, they keep asking when he's going to be open. Lipson said he's just waiting the final OK from the state Health Department and then he'll be good to go. Going through the process to start the business has been a learning experience, he said.

He named his enterprise The Happy Otter for a family of otters on the nearby mine pit lake who often appear to be taking in the humor of it all.

"They are always kind of laughing at us," Lipson said.

To get there, take Highway 210 east from Brainerd past the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and take Highway 59 to Riverton, then look for County Road 128, which is a big loop, and exit at Iverson Road. Lipson said it's impossible to miss. There is a parking area down the road from the food stand and Lipson also has some parking spots on his property.

Lipson said he'll be one working the food stand and is ready to add the hours onto his existing work schedule.

"I think it's going to be fun," he said.