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Several Dunkin’ Donut stores are coming to the Twin Ports region in the next several years. (Photo courtesy Dunkin’ Donuts)

Franchisee outlines plans for Dunkin' Donuts locations in Northland

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Move over scones, doughnuts are coming back to the Twin Ports.

And in a big way.

At least seven Dunkin’ Donuts stores are planned for the Duluth, Superior and the surrounding area in the next five years.

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But expect even more, says Brian Weidendorf of Hinckley, who bought the multistore Dunkin’ Donuts franchise for the Northland.

“We have to open a minimum of seven in northeast Minnesota, that’s our agreement,” he told the News Tribune on Monday. “But it’ll be a lot more. It could be 20 stores in the next five years.”

The first Dunkin’ Donuts will open in Duluth on Central Entrance, east of Miller Hill Mall, in an existing space that will be remodeled. A store built from scratch will soon follow in Superior on South Tower Avenue near Wal-Mart, he said.

“They’ll start coming pretty fast after that,” he said.

Several stores in the region will follow, first Hibbing, then cities including Brainerd and Grand Rapids.

But Duluth and Superior residents won’t go without more Dunkin’ Donuts. More stores will open in the Twin Ports in round two of the store openings, Weidendorf promised.

Most of the roughly 2,500-square-foot stores he’ll open will be new construction. But some will open in existing buildings that will be transformed into the iconic coffee shops. All will have indoor seating and drive-throughs.

The Duluth-area franchise agreement is a key part of the giant doughnut chain’s push to re-enter the Minnesota market after of an absence of more than 15 years.

The first store in its Minnesota comeback opened in Rochester last month, with five more planned for that area over the next several years. Currently, the chain is seeking franchise holders for the Minneapolis and Mankato areas.

Weidendorf, a developer with 35 years’ experience in real estate, and his wife, Sharon, began seeking the Duluth franchise a year ago.

“It took a year to get approved and qualified,” he said. “It’s quite a process. Dunkin’ Donuts does a very thorough job making sure they have the right person in the jobs.”

While the couple’s approval process was underway last winter, rumors swirled of a possible Duluth store. But Dunkin’ Donuts was looking for a franchise holder who could establish not one but six to 12 restaurants in the area, Steve Rafferty, the chain’s franchising chief, said then.

Weidendorf runs a couple of businesses already. So, he was asked, why take on a group of coffee-and-doughnut shops, requiring a substantial investment?

“It’s a great company, great products and it’s priced well,” Weidendorf said of Dunkin’ Donuts. “They’re growing like crazy, It’s a good company to be with, and it will be good for the area.”

Besides, they have a good lunch and breakfast menus along with tasty pastry, he said.

Although Weidendorf said he’ll continue his work in real estate, he and his wife plan to be involved in their Dunkin’ Donuts business. They’ve teamed up with Pat Messina, a restaurant veteran, who will serve as the general manager, overseeing the daily operations for the restaurants.

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