EDITOR'S NOTE: This is another story of a multiple-part series that highlights some of South Dakota's best small-town eateries. These stories will run through the summer as tourists are traveling South Dakota, looking for places to stop and eat.
Brad and Julie Boisen chose to build their home in Plankinton, South Dakota because it still had the Main Street nostalgia they sought.
“When we first moved to Plankinton — it had a Main Street. For me that was kind of a sense of community,” Julie said. “There was a place where people went and gathered. It makes that community just a better community to raise a family in.”
After moving to town in 2002, the couple got to work. Julie had owned a company on Main Street and Brad founded a pheasant hunting lodge. But when one of the town’s few restaurants — the Golden Pheasant — announced it was closing, the pair couldn’t imagine losing a Main Street business.
“That was the only large restaurant in town for large gatherings, they had higher-end steaks, nicer dinner types,” Julie said. “We couldn't see one of our restaurants closing.”
The two decided to purchase the property in 2008 and shut it down for remodels. A couple months later, Commerce Street Grille and Bar opened.
"Olive Garden says, 'When you're here, you're family.' Clearly they've never been to a small town restaurant."
- Ryan Fouts
Legally, the restaurant is registered to their address in Galveston, Texas, where the Boisens live three to six months out of the year — meaning they rely heavily on their staff to keep the place running smoothly when they aren’t around.
Though the Boisens admitted the distance led to issues with some employees in the past, they said the restaurant is in the best hands possible now.
Linda Assmus has managed the grill for the Boisens over the past six years, and has contributed to the eatery’s community success. Assmus, who also owns her own embroidery business, said the level of the Boisens’ trust in her helps her run the restaurant effectively.
“I really feel good that they have confidence in me — I treat it like it is my own business. I make decisions like it is my own business,” Assmus said. “I’ve always done that anywhere I’ve worked.”
Brad referred to Assmus as the eyes and ears of the restaurant for when he and Julie are away, noting that Assmus is in charge of the day-to-day operations, including the menu and specials.
With over 50 items on the menu, Commerce Street Grille and Bar truly can cater to every guest’s taste, though Assmus said their most popular items are their hand-cut steaks, shrimp dishes and blackened walleye sandwiches. On the weekends, they offer specials like prime rib and what Assmus called a “spectacular salad bar” composed of all homemade items.
Beyond the food, the restaurant holds community fundraising events and group gatherings, and even caters weddings.
Plankinton native Emma Fouts had her wedding catered by Commerce Street Grille and Bar, and said that the food and the staff took the stress away from her big day.
Emma and her husband, Ryan Fouts, got married in September, between waves of coronavirus spikes. As a precaution, they decided to gather at Emma’s childhood home near Plankinton.
“We did our whole wedding at my parents house, so we had to do every single thing,” Emma said. “(Assmus) was over-the-top helpful. It was so stress-relieving that we didn't have to worry about a lot of other things, like food.”
The Fouts praised Assmus and her staff, pointing out that they accommodated their request to provide their own meat and agreed to serve the food, too, in order to limit unnecessary contact between individuals.
Growing up near Plankinton, Emma had eaten at the restaurant many times, and had a personal relationship with Assmus. But Ryan, who grew up in rural Iowa, was quick to find out how community oriented the grill was.
“Even before I knew who they were they knew about me,” Ryan said. “Everybody knew Emma so it was a little bit different than if I was a stranger walking in. Everyone is always friendly, the more I went, the more I got to know people in town.”
Ryan explained how the restaurant’s warm, inviting environment, pairs with the social aspects of the staff and customers to make it feel like you’re part of a family.
“Olive Garden says, 'When you're here, you're family,' ” Ryan said. “Clearly they've never been to a small town restaurant.”
Brad and Julie said the restaurant was founded on the idea that it must be a family friendly place to grab dinner first and a drink second.
“There’s a reason we named it Commerce Street Grille and Bar and not the other way around,” Brad said.
In efforts to keep community ties tight, the eatery has hosted many events raising funds for community needs, which draws huge crowds.
Lately, Queen of Hearts (also known as Chase the Ace) has brought in upward of 300 people, forcing some to sit outside or stand inside. They’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for community and personal needs recently, including a pool bathhouse and individual medical needs.
For Assmus and the Boisens, it comes down to giving area residents a place to spend their time together.
“It’s all about keeping the business going and keeping the public. The public is so thankful that the business is open,” Assmus said. “I get comments all the time about this being such a great place in such a small town. I could definitely do other things in my life, but I love being able to do this. So, I'll keep doing it.”
Commerce Street Grille and Bar is already fielding catering requests for 2022, and has no plans of changing how they operate anytime soon.