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Hudson natives take over Shady Grove Restaurant near Ellsworth

Bridget Kelly and Shane Pruitt took ownership of the Shady Grove Restaurant on Hwy. 65 between Ellsworth and Beldenville this fall. The couple has extensive experience in the food service industry and both are Hudson natives, graduating in the same Hudson High School Class of 1986. (Star-Observer photo by Bill Kirk)

By Bill Kirk

Pierce County Herald

Bridget Kelly and Shane Pruitt were each employed in other fields previously, but both concluded food service is the industry in which they’re meant to be.

Interestingly, this mutual conclusion—like so many other aspects of their lives—occurred on a closely coinciding timetable. That’s a fact for the pair as individuals, despite them having gone their separate ways, and certainly since they’ve found each other again.

Their latest venture is helping them fulfill that desired occupation together, as the new owners of the Shady Grove Restaurant on Hwy. 65 between Ellsworth and Beldenville. They took ownership in October from the recently retired Steve and Heather Snook.

“We’re thankful the staff has stayed on,” Kelly said, with Pruitt adding, “they’ve actually been teaching us.”

Like the employees, the couple vows the rest of the dining establishment will mostly stay the same. Same name, same hours--though the latter could be expanded eventually depending on demand, Pruitt said. Meantime, the premises are open Wednesdays through Sundays from 5 p.m. to close.

“We’ve had some inquiries about noon and other times,” he said.

The basic premise of the menu will go unchanged, too. They’re impressed with the “farm to fork” concept the Snooks introduced, they said. In fact, Kelly first became aware of the local business when she heard it and this idea being discussed on Twin Cities radio, she said. Pruitt promised the local buying will continue from the abundance of fresh produce vendors in this vicinity.

“Everything from apples to zucchini,” he said.

Customers shouldn’t doubt what the new owners can do with these types of meals and this type of hospitality. They’ve already noticed a lot of their patrons have changing pallets, according to season, and they’ll tailor their menu accordingly. Bison and duck (all organic) have been popular choices for the public; they’re glad willingness to try different dishes has been high.

Pruitt said they trim their own meats, offer fresh seafood and make vegetarian options available. They also accommodate gluten-free diets. He hesitated to name a favorite main course he enjoys preparing, implying his enjoyment applies to most, but emphasized the fresh pasta he makes.

Not surprising for an 18-year veteran cook at Mama Maria’s Italian Restaurant in North Hudson, where pasta was a prominent part of his cooking. Although his partner in the Shady Grove arrived at Mama Maria’s around five years ago, she had an influence there as well, in the “front of the house,” yet soon advancing from hostess to manager.

It’s at that restaurant where Kelly and Pruitt were reunited after 26 years, the former said. She returned to her hometown in ’08 following a stint on the Cities’ music scene. When she applied for work at the restaurant where he was already employed, she asked about him and—before she could say more—he was standing right there.

They’d attended the Minnesota State Fair together in 1981, an outing she compared to a “first date,” but the two had split by the time of their graduation from their common high school. Indeed, they were out of touch over the two-and-a-half decades, unaware they shared a passion for food service and she only knowing to inquire about him at the restaurant once she was back home.

Kelly said she’s the daughter of the now-retired William and Marianne, still living in Hudson. She has a sister, Kristina, in Denver. Her dad is a former school superintendent and, while her very first jobs were with McDonald’s in Stillwater, Minn., and at Pizza Hut, where she waited tables, she developed an interest in theatre when in school. Later, during studies in theatre and music at UW-River Falls, she was a member of UWRF’s former St. Croix Valley Summer Theatre.

“I was Heidi in ‘Heidi’ and acted with (then-UWRF Professor) Michael Norman in ‘Oklahoma’,” she said.

Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Pruitt grew up in Hudson, he said. His father lives in Kentucky and his mother, Toni, is a resident of Spring Valley. He has a sister, Tasha, in Minneapolis and an 18-year-old daughter, Devon.

Pruitt’s first job was at the former Sam’s Brass Tack (now The Seasons) as a dishwasher, he said. He then worked at the former White Pine Inn (now the post office) in Bayport, Minn., where one of the cooks eventually came to him wondering if he wanted to join them.

“That’s a lifelong skill I could use anywhere,” he said about his thinking when answering in the positive.

Next, he attended college in St. Cloud, Minn., for two years, majoring in English, he said. Simultaneously, he was also a line cook at the Pirate’s Cove there.

In 1989, Pruitt relocated to be employed on his family’s horse farm in Kentucky, he said. Unbeknown to either of them, Kelly said she was moving from Hudson to the Cities around this time. She played guitar at such Minneapolis music venues as Seventh Street Entry, the 400 Bar and First Avenue. She was a bartender as well.

Two years later, Pruitt returned to college at Transylvania in Kentucky, he said. He graduated with a business degree in hotel and restaurant management in 1993. He was on the cooking staff at country clubs in Lexington, Ky., before heading back to Hudson and being hired at Mama Maria’s in ’94.

Kelly and Pruitt have happily switched from being part of an operation with a 300-seat capacity in North Hudson to one seating 50 (20 more outdoors in appropriate weather) here. They credit eight-year staffer Bob Stanton for his assistance and praised all the young people they’re employing locally (often starting as dishwashers and ending up as hostesses) for being hard workers.

“It takes a team,” Kelly said of a career Pruitt called “fun.”

They ought to know. Not only are both well-versed in food service, but both are sports fans and he’s played defense for old-timers hockey in his past spare time.