Pheasant Facebook photo: From left, Georgiana Olson, Michael Johnson and Ronald Olson watch the new pheasant sculpture being lifted onto the roof of The Pheasant Restaurant and Lounge in July.

By: The Pheasant Restaurant and Lounge – Updated: 1 week ago

BROOKINGS – The Pheasant Restaurant and Lounge is gearing up for a full day of celebrations Saturday to commemorate its 70th year.

The community is invited throughout the day and night Saturday as the Pheasant crew celebrates a 70-year love story between the Pheasant Restaurant & Lounge and Brookings. The all-day celebration includes:

• Live music by Tommy Edwin during the Nordic waffle brunch, 9 a.m.-noon

• Throwback dining specials featuring historic dishes from The Pheasant’s past during lunch and dinner

• Mayoral Happy Hour, with vintage cocktails and free wine tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m. Mayor Keith Corbett will offer a special mayoral toast and proclamation at 5:30 p.m.

• The day’s grand finale is a free, live concert by Burlap Wolf King from 9-11 p.m.

The Pheasant is Brookings’ oldest full-service restaurant. Established in 1949, it has been under the same local, family ownership and operation for over half a century and three generations. Many of the signature recipes at the Pheasant have been favorites for just as long.

The Pheasant started as a small gas station café on the edge of town and has grown with the  community. 

“Our team is proud to be a part of this iconic institution’s history, and we embrace a tradition of consistently excellent food and drinks offered with fresh inspiration and local flair in a setting where you can feel at home,” said a press release from the restaurant.

The restaurant was recently featured in South Dakota Magazine, Savor Dakota, Dakota Life, Zagat, Urban Spoon, local, regional and national news stations, Roadfood.com, Atlas Obscura, Oprah’s “O” Magazine, and most recently on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” live last Saturday.

Current owners Ronald and Georgiana Olson of Brookings have owned The Pheasant since 1966, and its current operator and manager is Michael Johnson of Brookings, the Olsons’ grandson.

Historic tidbits about The Pheasant 

The Pheasant Café opened in 1949 under the ownership of the Grossman family at its current location.  

Then outside of city limits and surrounded by prairie and farmland, the business initially included a gas station and living quarters, and the building was crowned with an 8-foot folk art pheasant landmark with custom neon signage hand built by Gerald “Jerry” Mitchell. 

Since purchasing the restaurant in 1966, the Olsons have employed many family members as well as multiple generations of other local families.

In 1966, the restaurant featured a car-hop drive-in featuring 15-cent hamburgers, 5-cent coffee, handmade pizzas, a white linen dining room, and a full menu of local café favorites.   

In 1968 The Pheasant was granted Brookings’ second ever liquor license, and on Hobo Day of that year the restaurant opened Brookings’ first and swankiest-ever public cocktail lounge. (Ron had previously applied for a liquor license at a downtown location, current address of the 9 Bar, and the City told him there would never be liquor sold in the town of Brookings because nobody would let their kids come to college here and women would be afraid to come into town to shop.) 

In 1971, the auto service garage was cemented in, the car hoists torn out, the gas station transformed into The Pheasant Lounge, and the 24-hour café and public house added the role of local steakhouse.    

On the eve of Father’s Day at 7:20 p.m. 1990, The Pheasant was devastated by a violent windstorm, prompting Paula Meyer, the owners’ daughter and manager at the time, to lead customers in the packed restaurant to safety. Immediately, the work of restoration began without locking the door for a single day.  

In 2008, The Pheasant began a commitment to supporting local music through weekly live performances and actively supporting local visual artists and artisans through events and collaborations.

In 2012, The Pheasant received the Brookings Area Excellence in Family Business Award from the Prairie Family Business Association.

In 2012, The Pheasant added a wine boutique and a retail tasting bar of authentic extra virgin olive oils and balsamics.

In 2013 during an unannounced visit, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his full production team ate at The Pheasant and gave a rave review.

In 2015, The Pheasant was awarded the city’s A.B.L.E. Award in recognition of their commitment to fulfilling the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 2016, The Pheasant started its “snobbery-free” educational wine club, which is still growing.

In 2017, The Pheasant was recognized by Oprah Winfrey’s “O” Magazine as serving the sandwich worth traveling to South Dakota for.

In 2018, The Pheasant Restaurant & Lounge was awarded the Brookings Mayor’s Sustainability Award in the Social/Quality of Life category.

In 2019, The Pheasant resurrected the historic landmark pheasant sculpture on the roof of the building with a ceremonial unveiling by the mayor in July.

Last Saturday, The Pheasant’s own Chef Michael Johnson was asked to appear as the featured chef on the ESPN stage when they visited SDSU for “College GameDay.” He and his team cooked up some dishes with uniquely South Dakotan flair and served them on live TV. 

“The Pheasant remains committed to enriching its community through a curious, adventurous approach to preserving and uplifting local traditions and food culture, while promoting the advancement of local talent and evolving cultural influences,” the press release said.

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