West Duluth mainstay Mr. D's turns 30

Though there are three decades separating 2009 and 1979, you can't help but notice some similarities: A major automaker was asking the government for a billion-dollar bailout, gasoline production was on the minds of many -- even the Pittsburgh St...

Mr. D's
The exterior of Mr. D's, a West Duluth tradition since 1979, received a facelift last year to correspond with its neighborhood's new-and-improved streetscapes. Matthew R. Perrine/Budgeteer News

Though there are three decades separating 2009 and 1979, you can't help but notice some similarities: A major automaker was asking the government for a billion-dollar bailout, gasoline production was on the minds of many -- even the Pittsburgh Steelers were at the top of their game back then. (They were down in Florida that year too, beating out the Dallas Cowboys by four points at Miami's Orange Bowl stadium.)

But there's another parallel between the two, one with roots a lot closer to home: Mr. D's. The West Duluth mainstay opened its doors that fateful year.

When asked what he thought the keys to success are, the bar and grill's owner responded with a big laugh and said, "Are there any right now?"

Recession jokes aside, Al Terwey did offer up a few ideas: "People are always looking for something different to be going on," the businessman said. "In our banquet room, we have special events going on all the time there. The more people that you can get through the door, the better."

Hopefully, he continued, all those people are spreading good word of mouth about the family business. (Its original owners were his late father, Dwayne, and his uncle, Don. Terwey said his uncle's share was bought out about three years after Mr. D's opened.)


"Good word of mouth travels to a few people, bad word of mouth travels to a lot of people. You try to keep the negative down and the positive up," Terwey said. "We always try to get new faces and do as much as we can for the community and for people in need."

Pay it forward

Anyone who's ever called West Duluth home can probably tell you that helping out is at the heart of the Mr. D's operation. Ever since Kyle Smalley started hosting "air band" fund-raisers there, the bar and grill has become a hub for the city's selfless legions.

"Any way you can help out, it'll come back to you," Terwey said modestly.

One of the first major fund-raisers he remembers Mr. D's hosting was for Paul Antonich, a 17-year-old Central student who was kidnapped, beaten and murdered in August of 1996.

"My dad saw what a devastating loss that was to Mary and Larry Antonich, and he just wanted to help out in some way," Terwey said quietly. "Obviously he couldn't bring Paul back, but he wanted to bring the community together for the Antoniches."

That's just how his dad operated. In fact, when Dwayne passed away in 2001, family friend and longtime employee Mary Jurek was quoted as saying, "Your last name never had to be Terwey to be a part of his family. Dwayne is going to be remembered for a very, very long time. This is a man who always had an open door and an open heart for anyone who needed anything. He was always there."

'New and Improved, Bigger and Better'


Back in '93, the Terweys found themselves in a similar situation to those they'd been helping out at their establishment: Mr. D's completely burned to the ground that March.

"There was a bartender of mine who, on his shift, brought a garbage container down to the basement trash area that had a cigarette butt in it," Terwey explained.

Never ones to feel sorry for themselves, though, a temporary incarnation of Mr. D's was up in time for Spirit Valley Days that summer and, by the time September rolled around, the West Duluth institution was back for good.

"My dad was the general contractor, so to speak; he pointed his finger and things got done," Terwey said.

He said they purchased pieces of property adjacent to the old Mr. D's in an attempt to make their Cheers "new and improved, bigger and better."

"And I guess we did," he said. "We went to about twice the size."

The building's last major overhaul came last year, when Mr. D's got a facelift to correspond with West Duluth's new-and-improved streetscapes.

"That was huge," Terwey told the Budgeteer, adding that they're always doing something to clean and make things better inside, like the facility's new big-screen TVs and recently installed automated tills.


Despite all the money he's poured into his place, Terwey says he rarely takes advantages of nightlife there (preferring a more-traditional early-to-rise shift).

"I don't bartend too much anymore," he said. "I don't have time for that, with everything we've got going on. You think you're going to drive to work and it'll be like, 'OK, today should be a fairly smooth day.' Then, of course, as soon as you step foot in the building, there's a lot of issues all the time. It's a busy, busy life.

"... Sometimes it's better if I'm not here, because I sometimes get generous -- and I don't make any money that way. [Laughs]"

So, going back to that "Cheers" reference, he's kind of like West Duluth's Sam Malone then?

"No, I'm more like Norm," Terwey said with a laugh, before pulling out one of that show's most famous quotes: "'Pour you a beer, Mr. Peterson?' 'All right, but stop me at one ... make that one-thirty.'"

In honor of its 30 years of business, Mr. D's will host a celebration starting Monday and ending with an anniversary party Saturday, Feb. 14. There will be drawings for Mr. D's merchandise and free drinks each day, as well as 1979 drink specials -- as in, 85-cent bottle service -- at randomly selected times and grand prizes like a Wii, a 42-inch HDTV and limo rides. Other highlights include karaoke Wednesday and Thursday and concerts featuring the Centerville All Stars (Friday) and the Dweebs (Saturday). Full details at

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