Burgers, fries, shakes and onion rings — lots of onion rings. Since 1960, Gordy’s Hi-Hat in Cloquet has been helping kick off spring in the Northland through classic food and diner service.
Rain and snow greeted the restaurant staff Wednesday as Gordy’s opened for a 61st season, welcoming customers through a carhop service that was reinstated at the establishment last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, manager Sever Lundquist said they will also open their heated screen porch for dine-in service, but that the main dining area will remain closed as a COVID-19 precaution.
He shared that the carhop service has not only provided a safe and effective way to serve customers in the pandemic, but is also bringing Gordy’s back to its roots by returning to the original method of service.
“Rather than doing new technology … we actually kind of kicked it back six decades,” Lundquist said. “It’s nostalgic to our family, but also to a lot of our customers that have been coming in for 60 years.”
Last year, staff at Gordy’s said they were lucky enough to only see a few rainy days. This year, large snowflakes greeted cars as they began filling the lot Wednesday morning.
Cloquet resident Paul Conito said the weather was not a concern as he woke up early Wednesday morning, hoping to beat the crowds.
“You get good food; you get a whole experience,” Gordy’s employee Paul Cameron said.
Cameron is in his second year of directing traffic in the Gordy’s parking lot, and said even in the cold weather, he’s happy to be there.
“It’s some place that I love and have been going to my whole life, so it’s fun to be a part of,” he said.
Cameron, a long-time friend of Lundquist, started his Gordy’s career when he got a call at the start of last season asking for help controlling the traffic.
Gordy’s is located along a busy highway and with the carhop service, Lundquist said they quickly realized a system was needed for managing the long line of cars throughout the day.
Staff put up signs and cones, with traffic directed into the overflow parking lot and the 21 service slots located directly in front of the restaurant. Lundquist said he hired about eight additional employees to help Cameron in the parking lot.
“It’s … a certain type of person that we put out in the parking lot,” he said. “They have fun out there.”
Cameron leads the parking lot crew as they not only direct traffic, but also entertain the customers. They dance, sing and get to know people in the line.
“It’s just like a symphony,” he said.
Many customers visit Gordy’s on their way through Cloquet, and Cameron shared that last year, they saw license plates from almost every state in the U.S.
Along with new faces and cars, Gordy’s employees said they also see a lot of repeat customers throughout the years.
Gordy’s has been in the Lundquist family since the beginning, and the people that work there say they have also come to know one another very well.
Of the approximately 75 employees that worked the 2020 season, Lundquist said only two chose not to return in 2021. He credits this as the main reason behind the smooth day-to-day operations.
“They can just jump right back into it and muscle memory helps them do the job every day,” he said.
Lead cook Lisa Neufeld has worked at Gordy’s since 1982. She said her coworkers are the main reason behind her repeated returns to the kitchen.
“I’ve spent my entire summer with these people since I was born,” Lundquist said. “It is like a second family.”
Gordy’s will be open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. until the fall.