When I started at Pike Lake Dental Center in 1998, I worked for Dr. Carter Johnson in the geodesic dome across the street from our current office location. Carter was ill with cancer the entire time we worked together. I remember him as being bald with a big smile, that he dry-brushed his teeth in the car on his commute to and from work, and that he highly valued continuing education. He was quick with compliments and he had many adoring, loyal patients. Carter was a very special guy. He knew his cancer was terminal and wanted his dental practice to continue on in good hands. I remember him coming into my office, plunking down in the second chair, and telling me, “You should get that boyfriend of yours to buy my practice.” It took some months and negotiating, but we finally convinced my boyfriend to make the move.
Matthew Jugovich, DDS purchased Pike Lake Dental Center in 1999. He left his job with Dr. Kim Chart on 4th Street in the Central Hillside neighborhood of Duluth and began practicing solo at Pike Lake Dental Center with a lot of dreams and a little debt. Together, we sent out a letter to Matt’s “4th Street patients”, as we affectionately still call them today, telling them of his departure from one practice and ownership of another.
I asked Matt how many patients he thought would follow him up over the hill and he replied with, “My family for sure.” That was about a total of 8 people. No worries. We could handle that number along with Dr. Johnson’s patients.
Not only did Matt’s family members follow him, but an outstanding number of loyal, amazing patients followed him too. You guys know who you are and we are privileged to still call you our friends today, all these years later. Most of the “Carter patients”, as we affectionately call them, also chose to stay and see the new guy.
We started out small with 3 dental chairs (two doctor chairs and one hygiene chair) and Carter’s 5 employees, plus Dr. Matt. Two of us gals worked up front. We ran the phones, handled the schedule and all the billing aspects of the office. The office also employed two assistants, one of whom was Monty (recently retired in 2016), and one hygienist, Deb, who is still with our office today. It was a perfect staff for an office that size. We worked well together and were excited to keep Pike Lake Dental Center continuing on with new leadership.
The geodesic dome had its unique challenges, space being our primary struggle. Under Dr. Matt’s lead, we were busier than we had been with Dr. Johnson while he was ill. Pike Lake Dental Center was growing quickly! Essentially, we had combined two dental practices, Dr. Matt’s and Dr. Johnson’s, into one. Within a few years, it was painfully obvious: we were outgrowing the building and there was no room for expansion at our current location.
A residential home went up for sale across the street from the geodesic dome and Dr. Matt jumped at the chance to purchase it. He put his little house in Woodland up for sale and moved into the house on Miller Trunk Highway. In the meantime, Matt and I got engaged. We were married in 2002, had our first baby and started building a house in Hermantown in 2003. We moved into our house, had another baby in 2004 and immediately began plans to move the house off the property in Pike Lake and build a new dental office in its place. We moved into the new office in December of 2004. Because we are a little bit crazy, we had our third – and last – child in 2005. It was truly a whirlwind of three or four years. We were young, in love and ready to tackle the world.
At the time of the move to the new office, we thought 6 dental chairs (three doctor chairs and 3 hygiene chairs) was more room than we could ever need. The office was clean, spacious and every piece of new equipment worked. It truly was a dream come true to work in the new office. We slowly added staff as we continued to steadily grow over the years in the new building. Sue, Nancy and Lisa would have joined us around this time.
During these early years, Matt assumed an astronomical amount of debt. In the span of just a handful of years, we had purchased Carter’s dental practice, bought a house, built a new house, built the new office and purchased all the equipment needed for the new office. When I heard the final total of our debt for the entirety of Pike Lake Dental Center, I will admit I was nauseous for a long time. How in the world could we pay back all that money? Why in the world had we been allowed to borrow so much? Matt was fiercely driven and rose to the challenge. There were many sleepless nights and countless hours spent worrying, but I am very proud to say we never missed a payment on anything. Ever. In fact, we managed to pay most of the loans off early. Just last month, we made our last payment to Wells Fargo for the building. We officially own the entire dental office free and clear now. Whew! That is a huge accomplishment!
Today, we are again bursting at the seams with 15 employees and Dr. Matt. Of the original Dr. Johnson staff, only Debbie and I remain. Our lunchroom is standing room only. We always try to creatively maximize each day’s schedule to the best of our ability. Matt has continued to add new technology and procedures to the office, always maintaining his high standards of patient care. We have experienced overwhelming growth and loyalty from our patients. Is it time to add onto the office again? Only time will tell.
As I reflect on the changes Pike Lake Dental Center has undergone in the years since I started working here, I am truly amazed. Matt’s determination and drive has continually taken Pike Lake Dental Center to new and challenging heights. I also find myself beaming with pride for all he’s accomplished. I hope Dr. Johnson would be proud of Pike Lake Dental Center today, a dental practice he literally started from the ground up. I am eternally thankful for the wonderful patients and staff we have had the privilege of serving and working with these nearly 20 years. Without you, Pike Lake Dental Center wouldn’t and couldn’t exist. So, from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!
Written and submitted by Stephanie Jugovich