ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa -- Steven Jensen was working at Emerald Hills Golf Course in Arnolds Park on July 1, 2013, when Leah Anderson showed up and needed to connect with friends on the No. 7 tee box.
"I gave her a ride from the clubhouse to the No. 7 tee and had to work quickly in order to ask her out on a date," said Jensen.
He succeeded. They began dating. And, exactly four years later, on July 1, 2017, they became engaged at Maxwell's Beach Cafe in the heart of the Arnolds Park Amusement Park. The couple, who own and manage one of the most popular restaurants in the Iowa Great Lakes, will wed Sept. 8 on Sunset Beach, a picturesque spot overlooking West Lake Okoboji, just days after they close for the season.
That's the perfect time for a couple already "married" to the summer tourism season here.
"We'll honeymoon in the wine country (in the western United States) and visit some of the wineries we carry here," Leah said, with a nod toward the 2019 season, a honeymoon then, in many ways, may mix business with pleasure.
Such a notion comes naturally for a couple employing 88 on the shore of West Lake Okoboji, mere feet from the Queen II. Steven Jensen, a 2003 graduate of North High School in Sioux City and a 2008 graduate of the University of Iowa, began working at Maxwell's Beach Cafe 11 years ago. He and longtime owner/operator Lewis Casson had talked for the past five years about Jensen's intent to one day own and manage the site.
"Lewis approached Leah and me in April, I think, and we had something like three weeks to open for the season," Jensen said.
The couple made some subtle changes as they embarked on their era, upgrading sirloin, pork chop and asparagus offerings, to name a few.
"We promised to keep it Maxwell's," said Leah, a native of Wellsburg, Iowa, who began spending time at the Iowa Great Lakes as a 4- or 5-year-old, often getting away from central Iowa with her grandparents, who had a place here.
Anderson and Jensen have worked to keep crowds coming back, often dining on halibut, prime rib and fresh tuna from the Honolulu Fish Company (one of 72 U.S. restaurants that serve a delicacy that's never frozen). Fridays and Saturdays are busiest, though many days in the peak summer season feature a big crowd. Customers, they say, come to Maxwell's from every state and all over the world, many stopping by during a visit to the adjacent amusement park.
"Susan Buffett, Warren Buffett's daughter, was here last week," Jensen said. "We've not seen Warren yet, but that's a goal."
Sioux Cityans may well recognize Jensen as he managed the Holiday Inn for his father, Larry Jensen, from 2014 to 2016, as the elder Jensen trekked north to Orange City, Iowa, to open the Hampton Inn & Suites there. The work at the Holiday Inn fit in well with Steven Jensen's experience at Okoboji and it built on his degree in entrepreneurial management.
Anderson, on the other hand, earned a degree in social work from the University of Northern Iowa, then added a master's in the field from the University of South Dakota. She was working at Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines when the opportunity presented itself to help Jensen manage Maxwell's.
"Unfortunately," she said with a laugh, "I don't think I'll use my master's much here."
Jensen readied for a Friday lunch-time rush as the staff bustled, arranging tables and prepping the kitchen. The couple hailed their staff as Maxwell's Beach Cafe came off a July 4 holiday week in which they had 380 reservations on three days sandwiched around Independence Day.
"We have one head chef and, at peak times, eight cooks, one who just does prime rib, one who does sautees, one who does the grill, one on the flat-top, one who does ovens and fryers and one who does the running," Jensen said.
"We're grateful and honored to be here, as Lewis had this for 33 years," Jensen said. "He built up the reputation for what he called 'The Club.'"
And, for the past two to three years, he kept saying that this day would come; that one day Maxwell's would be theirs.