Longtime friends Jeremy Stensland and James Haviland moved from South Dakota to the Valley in the mid-90s.

They worked in the IT field and home rentals.

They first visited Rim Country in 1994 and stopped to eat at Creekside Tavern in Christopher Creek.

“A friend remembers me saying ‘I’m going to own a place like this up here one day,’” Haviland said.

A quarter-century later, he does. Exactly like it.

Stensland, Haviland and Haviland’s fiancee, Jena Bunda, purchased Creekside Cabins, Steakhouse & Tavern last December and opened in January 2020.

“Jena and I thought this would be a good place to raise kids,” Haviland said.

So they had a year to strategize about their Christmas lights plan.

It’s obvious they put some time into the effort.

“Straight away we started planning something special with Christmas lights,” Haviland said. “I enlisted the help of Christopher Creek’s local tree expert, Jay Fitzgibbons, and he has since put up thousands of feet of LED twinkle lights on all 10 of our cabins, the bordering 100-foot ponderosa pines and head to toe on the restaurant and bar. I’m pretty sure we can be seen from the space station and the display would impress even the likes of Clark Griswold.”

Yes, maybe Chevy Chase would be interested in paying Creekside a visit. It might get him interested in starring in another “Christmas Vacation” movie.

The amazing light display may be the first thing guests and visitors notice, but once their eyes adjust, they’ll see that the trio of new owners have been busy with several upgrades since taking over.

They’ve tripled the size of the “Patio in the Pines” to 2,500 square feet and added several tables and feature live music from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays during the warmer months.

They plan to light bonfires on Friday and Saturday nights with live music on select unseasonably warm early evenings in the coming weeks, including Christmas and New Year’s Day weekends.

“We will serve hot cocoa and craft Christmas cocktails for adults,” Haviland said.

They’re open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

“We welcome everyone in Payson to bring the family out to check out the lights, grab a delicious prime aged ribeye steak dinner, enjoy the bonfire and take in the mountain forest at Creekside,” Haviland said.

Olive and John Matus opened Creekside Tavern in 1972 and owned it for 30 years before Olive sold the business.

“It’s passed through a few folks since and it fell into disrepair,” Haviland said.

So, transforming the deck and adding lots of lights were just two of the many projects they’ve undertaken.

They also redid the restaurant flooring, remodeled the kitchen with new appliances and upgraded the walk-in freezer and have been remodeling their 12 rental cabins.

And they’ll expand the business after purchasing three acres of land across the road. They plan to build a few new rental cabins with “amazing views” of the Mogollon Rim” they’re calling Creekside Ridgeview expected to open in 2022.

For now, they have 12 cabins available.

They offer $9 meal specials Sundays through Fridays like Meatloaf Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wing Wednesday, All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti Thursday and Fish Fry Friday, with a steak special featuring two prime aged ribeyes and a bottle of red wine for $59 on Saturday.

Football fans can drop by every Sunday to watch any NFL game on one of their four large TVs in the bar while enjoying half-price appetizers and specialty drinks.

They’re located at 1520 E. Christopher Creek Loop. For more information, visit www.cabinsatcreekside.com.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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