Whatever happened to ... Northland eateries get a boost after ‘Diner’ showFirst in a weeklong series Gordy’s Hi-Hat, along with At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe, Northern Waters Smokehaus and the Duluth Grill, was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” this year. Each business experienced change because of it, ranging from small to dramatic effects.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
First in a weeklong series
After Gordy’s Hi-Hat appeared on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” this summer, owner Dan Lundquist had employees begin cutting onions for its famed onion rings each day at 4 a.m.
“We used to cut for six hours a day,” Lundquist said. “After the show aired, we were cutting for at least 12 hours a day.”
Gordy’s, along with At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe, Northern Waters Smokehaus and the Duluth Grill, was featured on the show this year. Each business experienced change because of it, ranging from small to dramatic effects.
Northern Waters, because of its online business, is more than 60 percent busier this month over last year at the same time, said owner Eric Goerdt. They’re shipping smoked whitefish and salamini all over the country, and to many people who have been repeat customers since the show aired. In its 10 years in business, this is the first year the local favorite is going to turn a profit.
“I’m amazed at the power of television,” Goerdt said. “I never realized how popular the show is. You can’t put a price on that.”
Goerdt hired three people because of the show. Lundquist hired six people. Both had to increase hours of employees at various times, as did Tom Hanson, owner of the Duluth Grill. His show aired in November, normally a down time for the restaurant.
“We’re doing sales right now that are equal to those in the summer,” he said, noting that the nearby Duluth Heritage Sports Center plays a part.
Chester Creek Cafe didn’t see the furor experienced by the others. Its episode aired in October, and while business was “crazy” for about two weeks, it wasn’t at the level co-owner Carla Blumberg was told to expect.
“We don’t really fit into the category of a diner, drive-in or dive,” Blumberg said, and the summer tourism season was over when the show aired. But she’s glad the restaurant was chosen.
“It gave us as a group a level of sophistication we didn’t have before,” she said, regarding food photography and what’s real and what’s not in food television.
Each business saw a huge demand from customers to eat what host Guy Fieri ate. Northern Waters has had a massive run on bison pastrami, whitefish and salamini, which can’t be made quickly because of its 30-day process. Chester Creek’s whitefish sandwich has remained popular and has a solid position on the restaurant’s ever-changing menu. Lots of people have e-mailed for the wild rice bread recipe, which the Chester Creek baker won’t divulge, Blumberg said.
The Duluth Grill is selling three times the amount of banana cream pie it normally does each day and has caused a bison shortage from its provider because of its pot roast. Gordy’s, which is closed for the season, is still selling vats of chili at its year-round warming house restaurant.
“Guy told me, ‘You don’t know what’s coming your way, so be ready for it,’” Lundquist said, noting Gordy’s had its highest-volume season, which was also its 50th.
“You are extremely aware of your quality,” he said. “You want everyone’s dining experience to be what they saw on TV.”
Customers would ask what Fieri had, Lundquist said, and order every item: double cheeseburger, onion rings, chili, roast beef sandwich and a blackberry shake.
Fans of the show came from all over the country to enjoy the food at each business. Many told workers they made vacations of it; hitting each place in the area that had appeared on the show. Chef Jillian Forte from Chester Creek was asked out on a date, employees at Northern Waters posed for photos and the Duluth Grill gave kitchen tours to those who asked.
“From a business standpoint, it’s kind of like winning a little marketing lottery,” Hanson said. “People root for you. Being featured in a national spotlight, the whole city benefits.”