Revealing the Secret

Asian eatery Secret Garden focuses on Korean fare

Katie Venit, photos by Andrea Paulseth

KIMCHI WITH A SMILE. Diners have two options at Secret Garden: self-designed Mongolian grill creations or traditional Korean entrées. Above: co-owner Ryan Miescke.

The Secret Garden has a tree made of money. Friends and happy customers have scribbled messages of good fortune on greenbacks and attached them like leaves to one of the many stylishly bare trees in the hopes that more will come back to co-owners Ryan Miescke and Sunyo Kyunghee Verdon.

A lot of what Miescke enjoys about owning his new Korean restaurant is found on that tree: happy customers, loved ones, friends, and family. “I like having people come and visit me. It’s wonderful to have so many people who care about you stop by and give their support.”

Although the location of this Secret Garden in Eau Claire is new, the idea (and the Mongolian grill) came from the original Secret Garden in Altoona, which was opened in 1997 by Kim Reneau and closed a few years ago. Miescke worked there while he attended UWEC, before business ventures and adventures took him away from the restaurant business, including a five-year stint teaching ESL in Seoul.

“My time in Korea changed me. It made me a much warmer person. When you have 30 kindergarteners come up to you everyday and give you a hug and say ‘I love you,’ it gives you a different attitude on life. It made me value things a bit differently.”

When Miescke returned to the Chippewa Valley, he eventually found his way back to the restaurant business and the Secret Garden. With Reneau’s guidance and encouragement and the partnership of her friend Verdon, the Secret Garden re-grew in Eastridge Center.

In only four months, the space was transformed from multicolored tiles, dropped ceiling, and bad floors to a tranquil restaurant befitting its name. Stone pavers now cover the floor and wooden shingles line the walls to create a courtyard effect. Diners sipping wine under pergolas surrounded by lighted trees and soft Korean music can be excused if they forget they’re sitting feet away from Hastings Avenue.

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