Meet Luke Bryce. Southwest Minnesota State University senior. President of the Students in Free Enterprise club. Restaurateur.
Bryce transferred to SMSU two years ago from Penn State University. He spent most of his life in Pennsylvania, before his parents, Deanne and Steve, moved to Springfield, when Deanne took a job with the Schwann Food Company.
Luke Bryce stayed behind to attend college. It was his intent to continue at Penn State, but a visit to Springfield after his sophomore year changed all that.
It was about then that his father purchased the old A&W restaurant in Springfield. Luke Bryce arrived in time to help get the business ready for opening. He liked the work. Liked the town, and area. So he decided to make a move he calls one of the best of his life.
"I realized how important family was to me," he said.
He transferred to SMSU, and is majoring in hospitality management. He's also part owner of the Solar Drive-in in Springfield, on the west part of town, on Highway 14. It gets its name from the solar panels attached to the structure, which heat the water, which in turns heats the building.
"We kept the 'Drive-in' part of the name because people were used to that - brand identity," said Bryce.
The Solar Drive-in is a family affair. Not only do Deanne and Steve Bryce work there, but Luke Bryce's grandparents, Mary and Ed Bryce, also do. Luke Bryce travels home to work in the restaurant on Friday through Sunday, also.
The Solar Drive-in contains a large, airy dining room, a coffee house and an outdoor patio area. The coffee house is in the back of the dining room, and contains couches, fireplace and a piano.
The menu started out relatively simple - burgers, fries - what you'd get at the old A&W. But gradually, the fare has become broader. Steak sandwiches and hot wraps were added. This winter, plated dinners like beef commercials and hamburger steak dinners were added. Even a Greek lamb wrap with a cucumber-yogurt sauce is on the menu and is catching on with Midwestern palates.
"We wanted to expand the tastes and flavors," said Luke Bryce.
Luke's father, Steve, bakes the breads and buns from scratch. He threw himself into the business, and has taken culinology courses at SMSU to gain knowledge. The gravy is all made from scratch, as is the pizza dough, salad dressings and sauces. Philly cheese steaks are also on the menu, a nod to the family's time in Pennsylvania.
"It's been going well," said Bryce. "We decided to make it a year-round restaurant, instead of just seasonal, so it's been remodeled, insulated, all of that."
When you walk into the place, you will see several videos that Luke Bryce has made about the restaurant, and its menu offerings. It's a passion of his that he hopes to continue after college.
"I'd like to be a videographer with a hospitality marketing focus," he said. You can see some of his work at the restaurant's Web site: www.Solardrive-in.com.
His life has changed dramatically over the past two years, in a good way.
"It's great to have my Penn State experience, it's a well-known school and all, but I like SMSU. I was able to find my area. When I came here I wanted to be a part of an organization, and take a leadership role in that organization. Students in Free Enterprise has really helped me work on my professional and personal skills," he said.
The SIFE team won its eighth straight regional competition last Monday, and will compete at nationals in Minneapolis this coming May.
"It's great that it's so close, we'll be able to take more team members," he said.
"I'm glad I made the choice to come here. It's worked out all right," he said.