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Spring brings changes to local eating scene

The annual rite of spring in Cloquet is the opening of Gordy's Hi-Hat on the hill in Cloquet. Customers will notice little change in the decor there, and, according to the Lundquist family, perhaps never will. Meanwhile, next door at Gordy's Warming House, the all-year coffee shop and eatery, there has been a total reimagining of the interior.

"It needed a facelift," said Sever Lundquist, third-generation Gordy's owner. The Warming House opened in 2005 and was outfitted like many coffee shops at the time, Lundquist said. Leather chairs were placed around a fireplace and the place had a living-room feel. Not much changed in the past 20 years.

Today, you'll find the fireplace and "soft" furniture replaced by wooden chairs. "It's the way of coffee shops today," Lundquist said. "It used to be a cozy, smalltown thing. That has changed."

He mentioned ice cream and children and the mess they can make, being one driver in pivoting to "hard spaces."

Another change in the coffee business, he said, is the use of the drive-thru. The interior of the Warming House was shifted to reduce the steps needed by employees to serve the drive-up window. "We consolidated the workspace," Lundquist said.

The reviews have been good since the shop reopened in the first week of March after nearly a month of remodeling. Yes, the fireplace is gone. "It hadn't been on for seven years," Lundquist said. "It didn't work."

Redo in Scanlon

Trapper Pete's Steakhouse & Saloon in Scanlon has been taken over by Shelly and Bob Huffman and renamed Hank's Sports Bar and Grill, with significant upgrades inside the establishment.

Shelly has been a longtime manager at Buffalo House, where she basically grew up with her family, and the nearby Rendezvous Sports Bar & Grill.

She said it's been unique to come in and totally revamp a place. Hank's will cater to families and groups, with a banquet space available. Another unique aspect is the living space above, which will be used as a vacation rental.

Hank's opened last week and the Huffman's were still working out kinks. Shelly said the renovation has been "stressful" but also fulfilling. It helps that Bob works in construction.

"Early reactions to the changes have been positive," Shelly said.

Saying goodbye

This weekend is the last for the Rustic Diner in downtown Barnum. Carlee and Todd Wolf announced in February that the cafe was for sale and its hours whittled down to Saturdays and Sundays only.

Carly had planned to stay open until a sale went through, preferring to sell a working business, but can't run the place herself as Todd is now employed at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Moose Lake.

"I can't cook and serve at the same time," Carly said. She hopes to use her master's degree in social work for her next phase in life.

Carlee said there have been a few interested buyers, but nothing has worked out yet. The Rustic has been in Barnum since 1979.

Another goodbye

In late February, Mike's Café & Pizzeria in Esko announced that it will close on May 24. Co-owner Mike Pracher had surgery last fall and hours and menu items at the restaurant have been limited this year.

"Our time in Esko was an amazing way to end the many years of our restaurant career," Mike and Deb Pracher wrote to customers.

Calls are out for someone to take over the restaurant space, which is owned by Pete Radosevich, an Esko attorney and publisher emeritus at the Pine Knot News. He started Eskomo Pies in 2007.

Mike and Deb Pracher, and daughter Andrea King, moved operations to Esko in 2020 after 38 years in West Duluth running Mike's Western Cafe. The Prachers said they plan to enter "semi-retirement."

Customers wished the couple well on the cafe's social media sites. "My family is totally devastated," wrote Nicole Lackas. "You are our go to place to eat. We are so excited that you get your time to rest, and we hope nothing but the greatest time in retirement.