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Miller Mall Bridgeman's: the last of its kind

Bridgeman's got its start in Duluth as an independent ice cream operation. Jack Nelson and three other owners of Bridgeman's at the Village Mall plan to keep their 25-year-old Bridgeman's store an independent operation, though the remainder of th...

Bridgeman's got its start in Duluth as an independent ice cream operation. Jack Nelson and three other owners of Bridgeman's at the Village Mall plan to keep their 25-year-old Bridgeman's store an independent operation, though the remainder of the Bridgeman's company has changed around them.
In 1999, the 13 company-operated Bridgeman's franchise restaurants were given the opportunity to sell to the Embers chain when Embers purchased three Bridgeman's corporate restaurants.
Twelve of the franchisees decided to sell. One did not. That one is partially owned by Jack Nelson, an independent businessman if ever there was one.
"Jack is truly a shining star," said Steve Lampi, president of Bridgeman's, Inc., a regional company based in Brooklyn Center.
Lampi said the present-day realities of doing business in a world of huge chains dictated the change in Bridgeman's corporate strategies.
"It's so hard because of the very large chains in the world. You have to join up with other operations to stay viable," said Lampi, regarding the decision to sell the franchise operations to Embers.
"We were a chain too big to be small and too small to be big," he said of the five-state company.
Lampi said the Bridgeman company thought it was in the best interest of their franchisees to hook up with a larger group, so they would have a viable future.
"But Jack Nelson and the staff thought they could continue as an independent franchisee," said Lampi.
"Both the Embers and Bridgeman's went along with me and supported my idea," said Nelson. "I think there needs to be a Bridgeman's in Duluth."
"When I was a little boy, I'd go to the Star Theater and stop at Bridgeman's for ice cream. And I did all that for 25 cents," Nelson said.
Nelson said Bridgeman's will capitalize on the nostalgia the community feels to maintain his store at the Village Mall.
"We'll try to be a little bit old-fashioned and do the same things that Bridgeman's restaurants have done for the past 66 years," said Nelson.
"Bridgeman's is very nostalgic and brings back a lot of memories," he added.
Lampi said he thinks Nelson is right about the nostalgia.
The ice cream is made in Wisconsin by a small family dairy. The proprietary recipe is used only for Bridgeman's.
Bridgeman's Inc. is working with businesses to install Bridgeman's licensed ice cream shops within the confines of other operations such as pizza shops, coffee shops and other food establishments. There are 87 licensed locations now.
"It's so hard because of the huge chains in the world. You have to join up with other operations," Lampi said.
As for Nelson, he isn't going anywhere just yet.
"With my capable managers and super staff, I can come and go as I please," he said.
"I'm enjoying it and finding it very relaxing. Being here just stirs up a lot of good memories."

Sharon Almirall is a business writer for the Budgeteer News. Contact her at 723-1207 or sharon.almirall@mx3.com .

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