Harmony couple opens second restaurant to honor their daughter who died from leukemia

Oct. 29—HARMONY, Minn. — Gabby Lou's Kitchen opened in March of 2023 with a name to honor the owners' second daughter who died from leukemia.

Matthew and Heidi Brown have owned Estelle's Eatery and Bar in Harmony since 2015. Estelle's Eatery and Bar was named after their first child who was born just a week after it opened.

When the building down the street from their first restaurant went up for sale, they knew they had to buy it. At first, the Browns were not considering opening up another restaurant. However, after eight years of being in special education on and off, Heidi was ready for a career change and a new restaurant seemed perfect.

"Right after the pandemic, this space went up for sale and we weren't really looking to particularly open up another restaurant," Matthew said. "It was more like let's get the space. It's close to the restaurant. We can use it for catering. We have a catering business next door and or storage or we could pick it up and flip it and it was just kind of a business acquisition."

Prior to opening, the space was the Harmony House Restaurant where members of the community could go for breakfast and lunch. When the Browns bought it, people were waiting and asking when breakfast was coming back to that location.

"There was some peer pressure from our town, but it was one of those things that worked out that she wanted to make a career change," Matthew said. "We had the space and we had the knowledge. We had already been doing it for eight and a half years next door."

The Browns also wanted to honor their second daughter who died in 2019 after battling acute myeloid leukemia for nearly a year.

"It's been really great to actually be doing it and it be sustainable," Matthew said. "To honor her and provide a service to the community and expand our business, like all of those things. It's not just one of those things. It's all of those things. It's been a blessing and we feel the love and the support from the community because they come in and they know what we're doing here. They know why we're doing it. So it's pretty neat."

When opening their new business, the couple wanted to keep the location a breakfast and lunch like the Harmony House Restaurant had been. The times would also complement the Estelle's Eatery and Bar which does lunch and dinner.

One of the ways they incorporated the Harmony House Restaurant into the new location was by using the original booths and stools. They also listened to their customers and added cinnamon rolls to the menu, despite Heidi's frustration when figuring out a recipe.

"The previous owner was also very well known for cinnamon rolls. So everyone's like, can you make cinnamon rolls?' and I was like, 'We'll see,'" said Heidi. "I wanted to throw it out the window because I couldn't do it. So a couple of us kind of banded together and came up with our own little recipe and we finally got them right."

One of the people who helped was Izzy Musel, who has been working for the Browns for six years. She started when she was 15 and has become a huge part of the restaurant's family. Musel and Heidi are in charge of making the bakery items and the Browns are very thankful for all the help she provides along with all of their other staff.

"We have a restaurant family where we all support each other, love each other and, and go toward that common goal of making it," said Matthew. "In a small town and in a little restaurant, the bottom line is you're trying to make it and keep the business going and it's everything I could have ever asked for."

The cinnamon rolls and pecan caramel rolls tend to be one of the best-selling items at Gabby Lou's Kitchen. However, the restaurant also is known for the homestyle food like tater tot hotdish, biscuits and gravy and meatloaf with mashed potatoes.

One of the special things about the food in the restaurant is that it's mainly sourced locally. The Browns have the mindset of keeping their food as local as possible. All of the beef comes from Heidi's dad who has a farm about a mile outside of town. They also work with an Amish family in the spring, summer and fall for produce and get their eggs locally.

In the future, the Browns would love to add more bakery items to their menu. They are still figuring out what works best for Gabby Lou's Kitchen in contrast to Estelle's Eatery and Bar, which has a more "diversified" menu.

The community is also excited to see what the Browns do to honor their third daughter, Gracie. The Browns have no intention of opening a third restaurant as of now and joke that they have seven more years to figure it out since they waited that long between opening their first and second restaurant. Right now they are focusing on what they have and serving the Harmony community.