The 605 team had its first meet-cute with the now-cult classic Custer restaurant, Skogen Kitchen, back in December of 2017.
A lot has changed since then—both in the restaurant industry and in life— but one thing that hasn’t changed is owners Eliza and Joseph Raney’s commitment to offering a unique, chef-driven menu to every customer who steps into their intimate restaurant.
Skogen closed last year due to the pandemic from March to August, reopening to their biggest September on record.
Owner and general manager Eliza said she and Joseph, the restaurant’s executive chef and her husband, chose to shut down because of Custer’s older population.
“We were closed for six months, and it was kind of terrible,” said Eliza. “Thankfully we’re a small business, and we were smart about our business decisions last year, so we just coasted it out.”
In a part of the state where summer tourism is huge for restaurants, Eliza says she was surprised and happy to see the outpouring of community support Skogen received after being closed for most of the summer months.
And what an outpouring it was; September alone proved to be the biggest month in sales for Skogen in almost four years.
After some meaningful adjustments to accommodate CDC health guidelines for their space, the restaurant was officially back in business.
“We’ve just been crazy,” said Eliza. “We’re so lucky to have so much support, even support like people buying gift cards when we were closed. We were definitely pleasantly surprised.”
Skogen Kitchen is probably best known for its ever-changing menu developed by Joseph, and even a global pandemic couldn’t stop the chef from experimenting in the kitchen and adding to the growing list of customer-favorite dishes.
Some of those favorites include their Compressed Suckling Pig—which Eliza says is one of Skogen’s most popular entrées, soups that rotate every evening, and Duck Breast from New York City.
“WE have a chef-driven menu that has everything from italian truffles to fantastic local fish dishes. I feel like we’re really well balanced in that way.”
“We’re unique in that we usually only have 20 to 30 items on our menu at any given time,” said Eliza. “We choose to focus on the menu items we have at the moment and making those flavors really stand out.”
Something that is changing for the couple this year is a new addition to their family. Eliza is due with the couple’s first child in June.
Although Eliza says they couldn’t be more excited to grow their family, the baby did change the couple’s annual international trip. The restaurant is always closed for the month of January, giving the Raneys the chance to leave the country in search of culinary inspiration all over the globe.
On The Menu
*Menu items are seasonal and are subject to change.
Roasted chestnut puree, cranberries, and caramelized celery root.
Ora King Salmon
Chimichurri, fingerling potato, chorizo, and smoked paprika emulsion.
Braised Beef Cheeks
Mint emulsion, vadovan cous cous, golden raisens, and toasted almonds.
Albacore Tuna Sashimi
Pickled hearts of palm, ponzu, green apple, and Korean chili flake.
Fried Chicken Steam Buns
Pickled red onion, basil, sriracha aioli.
Goat cheese crema, toasted walnuts, parmesan reggiano, and caramelized shallots.
Panna Cotta Affogato
Vanilla bean, amaretto espresso liquer, and cocoa nibs.
Double Chocolate Tart
Lingonberries and whipped cream.
“We couldn’t go out of the country this year like we usually do,” she said, “but we found some inspiration a little closer to home. The trip is important because we usually get to go anywhere in the world and learn different things and bring those things back to Custer in an American way.”
Even though COVID-19, coupled with their expected little one, may have changed the Raneys’ travel plans this year, the talented pair says there are changes they had to make during the pandemic that might be sticking around Skogen even after masks and social-distancing are over.
Given the small square footage of their space, Eliza says reservations are now required for many customers who dine at Skogen, though walk-ins are allowed when they have space.
The intensified cleaning practices and attention to detail are other elements that Eliza says she doesn’t see going away anytime soon.
“The most important thing to us throughout the pandemic and beyond is consumer confidence,” she said. “Just the other day we had an older couple drive here for dinner who I know live an hour and 15 minutes away from Custer, and they said it was their first time eating out since COVID. The last thing I would want is for people like them to not feel good about eating out.”
Eliza continued, “The support we’ve received is amazing. We just want to give back that same sense of confidence to the customers who put their trust in us.”