DUNDEE — Rebby Lee purchased the Dundee House Hotel in 2014 and recently moved to the area to work on renovation. She brings with her the popular Dundee Love Cakes, as well as the music she writes for her band, Rebby & the Romantics.
Recently retired as an investigator for the Minnesota Attorney General's office, Lee said, "I'm getting older, and I want to focus on the creative things."
Lee played the violin, drums and piano growing up. She taught herself the guitar as a college student at the University of Minnesota, and that's when she began writing her own music. Since then, she has written hundreds of original songs.
"I just pick up an instrument and start writing," she said of her process. "It happens within minutes."
Lee first began recording her music at age 30, and fell in love with it immediately.
As a solo artist, she played regularly at the Radisson in downtown St. Paul for 10 years. She released her first CD, recorded on the nine-foot Steinway in MPR's studio, in 2000.
Lee's current band, Rebby & the Romantics, plays her music.
"We have such a good grove," she said of the band. "It's a really great relationship."
The band's range is vast and includes rock, pop and ballads. Lee said a lot of her songs are inspired by water, and Lake Itasca in particular. The band has been working on a CD since 2016, but with everyone's jobs and other responsibilities, it has been hard to finish.
Her desire to perform stems from a drive to share.
"When you've been given the gift of writing like I have," she said, "you're not supposed to keep it to yourself."
"I believe in my music, and I really love it."
In addition to performing, Lee often feeds the crowd. A natural host, she has started serving her Dundee Love Cakes at events. The cakes are often heart-shaped and covered in her signature chocolate ganache.
At first, Lee gave her cakes away for free, but people began ordering them from her. She's now licensed to operate Dundee Love Cakes out of her kitchen.
Both Lee's music and her cakes will have a home in her remodel of the Dundee Hotel.
Lee's grandparents, A.R. and Minnie Schmidt, owned the hotel in 1899 and raised their nine children there. Lee remembers visiting her dad's childhood home when she was young.
On a visit in 2014, Lee recalled entering the Dundee Hotel for the first time in a while.
"The minute I walked in, I could smell the smells I smelled as a little girl," she said.
She asked to buy it right then.
Lee has already replaced the roof, but the hotel needs a lot more attention, she said — including updated electric work, plumbing and heat. She plans to add a commercial kitchen for baking Dundee Love Cakes, as well as performing space for her band and others.
Although funding the project will be a significant task, Lee is confident that she can make it happen.
"I believe in dreams," she said.
To introduce the community to her music and her cakes, Lee is hosting a free concert from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday night at the Fulda Community/Legion Hall. Rebby & the Romantics will perform, and Dundee Love Cakes will be served.