Chinese Lantern fire was 20 years ago

Flames erupt from the upper windows and roof of the Chinese Lantern shortly after 7 a.m. on Jan. 16, 1994 as firefighters pour water into the three-story structure from their hoses and aerial trucks. Twelve units and up to 50 firefighters were at the scene in downtown Duluth. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fire that destroyed the landmark Chinese Lantern restaurant in downtown Duluth. The fire on Jan. 16, 1994, burned “one of the places – like the Aerial Bridge, like Glensheen – that comes to mind when people think of Duluth,” the News Tribune reported the next day.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the fire story that appeared in the Jan. 17 DNT:

“The Chinese Lantern, a landmark supper club popular among Northland residents and visitors for 30 years, caved into a shambles of scorches timbers and ice in little more than three hours early Sunday.

Up to 50 firefighters were called out in 18-below weather at 5:45 a.m., battling a downtown Duluth fire of unknown origin that started in the kitchen and quickly burst through the rooftop in a wall of flames that threatened the lives of a dozen firefighters inside. …

Owner Wing Ying Huie opened the Chinese Lantern in 1964 at the Superior Street level of the Palladio Building, immediately behind the structure that burned. He was following a Huie family tradition of serving authentic Chinese specialties that began when his father, Joe Huie, opened a restaurant near the entrance of Canal Park in the early 1900s.”

Go to this Attic post from 2008 for more of the story and additional photos: Chinese Lantern fire

Jan. 17, 1994: Workers remove heavy items from the wreckage of the Chinese Lantern a day after a fire destroyed the downtown Duluth restaurant. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

After the fire, the building was repaired and a half-dozen bars and/or restaurants tried to make a go of it at that location: Blue Water Bar & Grill. Bella Vita Ristorante. Champps Americana. Duluth Athletic Club Bar & Grill. Score Sports Bar & Grill. R Bar. None lasted for the long haul.

In late 2011, it was announced that the Minnesota WorkForce Center, Duluth Workforce Development and partner agencies would move into the entire vacant building, ending – for now – any attempts to try yet another restaurant at that location.

Share your memories of the Chinese Lantern – or any other long-gone Duluth restaurant – by posting a comment.

Downtown Duluth’s Sunnyside Cafe, 1981

October 13, 1981

Here’s a story from the Duluth Herald files from 1981, profiling an old-fashioned downtown Duluth cafe and its proprietors. It’s kind of a long article, but it’s a pretty fun, charming story with some memorable anecdotes. Enjoy…

Art Rode mans the counter at the Sunnyside Cafe in downtown Duluth in October 1981. (Joey McLeister / Duluth Herald)

Cafe owners keep their Sunnyside up

By Lynnell Mickelsen, Duluth Herald

At 6:15 a.m. there are four regulars in the cafe, people who drove past McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardee’s, Sambos and the 7-11 to get to this place. The waiter knows their names and their orders. He also knows their fishing stories, hunting stories, idiot boss stories and their political views. The cook knows all of this plus their dietary restrictions. This morning she tells a regular she will boil his eggs instead of fry them because his doctor has repeatedly told him to lose weight. “It will save you 55 calories,” she says.

The Sunnyside Cafe, 214 E. Superior St., has nine stools, four booths, no chrome and no cute names on the menu. It’s open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Owners Art and Marion Rode are also the waiters, cooks, dishwashers, busboys, buyers and bookkeepers. They have been in the restaurant business for nearly 40 years.

They have, in other words, a 30-year jump on Egg McMuffins, which came out in 1972 and sparked the Great Breakfast War among the fast-food franchises. McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Sambos and the others compete fiercely among themselves for the breakfast crowd. They can deliver the food faster and cheaper than the Rodes, although this suggestion raises a chorus of protest from Sunnyside regulars.

“They can’t give you ham that comes off the hog,” says one.

“They fire the waitresses so often … they don’t know what the hell they’re doing and it takes forever,” says another.

“They don’t even know what hash browns are,” says another.

Even so, the franchises seem to be winning and the Rodes’ nine-stool cafe and other ma and pa operations appear to be a fading phenomenon, dying off by attrition, because no businessman in his right mind would try to start one now.

Marion Rode, a cook with more nearly 40 years of experience, wraps up a sandwich to go at the Sunnyside Cafe in October 1981. Five days a week from this window, she watches the sunrise over Lake Superior. (Joey McLeister / Duluth Herald)

The Rodes, however, don’t think about the future of breakfast cafes. For one thing, they have to get up too early to be philosophical. They arrives at the cafe at 5:15 a.m. in order to have coffee ready and the stove hot for people who, either by neurosis or necessity, east breakfast at 6. They have risen so early for so long that even on weekends, back home in Duluth Heights, they are often up at 5 a.m., drinking coffee.

Getting up early is hardly glamorous, but it has its compensations. The cafe’s back kitchen window looks out over Lake Superior and, over the years, the Rodes have watched one superb sunrise after another.

“We watch it move with the season,” Marion says, cracking two eggs into a cast-iron frying pan. The sunrise moves from the left side of the window across to the right and, for three weeks in December, disappears behind the wall of the Muffler Clinic before emerging and switching directions. They watch the storms brew up over the lake and, in the winter, they say the spray from the surf nearly hits the window.

At 6:30 a.m., a regular, his limbs shortened by dwarfism, swaggers into the cafe. Before the man is two feet inside, Art orders a cheese sandwich to go and Marion is reaching for the bread. Art and the man banter over the counter.

“He’s always giving me grief,” the man says to another customer as Art walks back to the kitchen. “Someday I’m going step on him.”

“What’s that?” Art asks, coming back.

“You’re always giving me grief,” the man repeats happily.

“Bacon and eggs,” Art calls into the kitchen. Another regular has just walked in. Art has been serving breakfast to some people for 20 years, watching them go from scrawny to paunchy. Marion remembers changing the diapers on a man. (“I don’t bring it up because it would embarrass him to tears.”) Regulars need to order only if they are feeling talkative; otherwise, Art can do it automatically.

It’s one of the few automatic processes in the place. Outside of an electric mixer and the cafe’s technological hub, a Bunnomatic coffee maker, this is a restaurant devoid of gizmos and shortcuts. There is no microwave. No pastry steamers. No Cuisanart. No dishwasher. Two years ago they unplugged the Hamilton Beach blender because it was too distracting.

As Art points out, it came down to a matter of priorities: by the time he made someone a milkshake, he could have served three people meatloaf.

“That machine,” Art says, pointing to the forsaken mixer, still sitting on the shelf, “kept us from doing the work we were meant to do.”

A close-up view of the Sunnyside Cafe menu from the photo above. Click on the photo for a larger view.

The same spirit carries over to the kitchen. “Nothing here is artificial,” Marion declares. In the fall, they bring in apples from the tree in their back yard and make pies.

Marion got her start in the restaurant business in 1942, in a place where the Radisson now stands. It was during the war, the shipyards were busy and they served 1,000 people a day. She made $14 a week and worked with a crew of veteran cooks. “Real old-timers,” she says. “I mean, they were purists. One lady used to save up lard and make the soap herself.”

Marion saved her money, and after the war started a place of her own. Art was one of her customers. “I was hard-boiled then,” she says. “One day I was throwing a drunk out of the place and he landed on Art.”

Art was out of the service, working at the Duluth airport. He had no known aspirations for the restaurant business until the drunk fell on him and he fell for Marion. But he has taken to it well. A smooth breakfast-bartender, he pours coffee with an instinctive, generous hand. A well-informed man, he doesn’t read the newspaper because, by noon, the entire paper has usually been read aloud to him, interspersed with editorial comment and unpublished details. He knew by 6:15 a.m. that Egypt’s Anwar Sadat had been shot.

Art comes back into the kitchen. He and Marion are trying unsuccessfully to remember the last names of veteran customers. The highest price on the menu is $2.95 and people don’t write checks. The only last names they know are for the doctors at the medical center who apparently never had first names.

The Rodes ran a cafe in the 500 block of West Superior Street in downtown Duluth for many years before urban renewal forced them out. This photo was taken in about 1954; Art Rode is behind the counter.

Marion glances up at the wall that separates the kitchen from the dining area. Someone’s waiting to pay the bill,” she says.

Art disappears. The cash register rings.

“You get to be able to feel that kind of stuff in your bones,” Marion says, shaping a meatloaf with her hands. She is a well-fed cook, the kind who “never eats” and must diet subsequently. She reads cookbooks “like novels” but doesn’t use them in the kitchen.

“When I was a girl, I wanted to be a research doctor. I wanted to find the cure for cancer. Never got enough education.” She now tests out various theories of the cause of cancer and finds them wanting. For example, she says she served bacon every morning to an attorney who not only did not succumb to cancer, but lived to 95 and died in his bed.

There are five calendars in the kitchen: odd decoration for a woman supposedly without a sense of time. Marion is vague on the years, vague on her age. Art, on the other hand, is 62, and can tell you the deer season starts in “four weeks and two days.” Every year they close for three weeks during deer season, but, by the third week, they are both restless to come back.

They don’t want to retire, but have heard the building will be sold in two years to make space for access across a planned freeway. “Urban renewal,” Art says, shaking his head. The Rodes have never sold quiche lorraine and their restaurants have never survived urban renewal. Urban renewal, according to Art, forced them out of their old restaurant about 12 years ago.

“We could never start up again today. Never. Too many health regulations,” Marion says. She sweeps her arm across the kitchen, pointing at the wooden shelves and countertops. “Now everything has to be stainless steel. Counters and booths have to be so far off the floor. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. You can’t be too careful. Eat off a low counter and it might kill you.”

– end –

The shelves behind the counter in the first photo stocked Snickers, Milky Way and 3 Musketeers candy bars, among other items.

The Sunnyside Cafe closed by the mid-1980s, and a few years later its building was gone. As alluded to in the second-to-last paragraph of the story, it’s now the location of an access point to Lake Place Park, next door to Perry Framing.

Art Rode died in August 2000 at age 80. Marion Rode died in July 2001 at age 89.

Do you remember the Sunnyside Cafe? Share your memories by posting a comment. Direct questions about the Attic to akrueger(at)duluthnews.com.

120 years ago, ‘handsome and cultured’ Lakeside became part of Duluth

This detail from an 1890 map shows part of the village of Lakeside before it became part of the city of Duluth. (2007 file / News Tribune)

The end of one year and beginning of another can be a time of great change, as new laws and ordinances take effect. Such was the case 120 years ago, when the arrival of 1893 meant that the village of Lakeside became part of the city of Duluth.

As 1892 ended and 1893 began, “the new year was whistled in at midnight by all the mills and industries on the bay shore which had steam up,” the News Tribune reported on Jan. 1. There also was “a fusillade of revolver shots on Superior Street,” but police did not arrest the gun owner, “some license being allowed for exaggerated fun on such an occasion.”

And with the shots and whistles echoing around town, Lakeside residents found themselves living in Duluth. The News Tribune marked the annexation of “Duluth’s handsome, prosperous and cultured suburb to the east” in a Jan. 1, 1893, article:

“After about four years existence as a village under the general laws of Minnesota and with special powers since the legislative session of 1891, beautiful Lakeside, loveliest village on Superior’s shores, became at midnight, with the ringing of the new year’s bells, a part of Duluth, the solid and superb. As a bride to the altar, she came with good wishes and in rich attire. There was no formal marriage ceremony at this time, it having been performed by the legislature two years ago, to take effect on this New Year’s day, and by the mere striking of the clock she passed from an independent suburb to an inseparable part of the twinless city. …

Another detail from an 1890 map shows the village of Lakeside before it was annexed into the city of Duluth. (2002 file / News Tribune)

“In two years from today the whole head of the lake on the Minnesota side of the bay will be a single city stretching from Lester river to Fond du Lac, West Duluth coming in next New Year’s say and participating in the general municipal election of February 1894. Thus the several parts of the future great city are beginning to get together, and while congratulating Lakeside on the alliance it has made, it is equally in order to congratulate Duluth on this early exhibition of her magnetic powers. With excellent street car and steam railway service, delightful carriage drives, fine schools and churches, charming houses, beautiful and even romantic scenery, and a cultured, enterprising people, Lakeside is truly a gem of a city — an agate on a rock-bound coast. …

“With the mists of her own beautiful river as a bridal veil, with snow drops and snow drifts as flowers beneath her feet, we salute again the sunrise suburb, now our own, that has ever been a handsome frontispiece to Duluth.”

And so the village of Lakeside became the Lakeside neighborhood, and the city of Duluth took one more step toward consolidating various municipalities into the city we know today.

And, of course, the terms of the annexation agreement between Duluth and Lakeside stipulated that no bars or liquor stores were to be allowed in the neighborhood – and Lakeside remains “dry” to this day.

—–

Now here’s a little New Year’s bonus from the News Tribune of Dec. 31, 1912…

As Duluth prepared for New Year’s Eve 100 years ago, the Bridgeman-Russell dairy announced a special menu of its “velvet ice cream” to accompany celebrations to welcome in 1913. The flavors? Maple mousse, macaroon, bisque, almond, walnut and nesselrud. “Nesselrud” probably was Nesselrode, a mixture of preserved fruits and chopped nuts named after a 19th-century Russian statesman. The Bridgeman-Russell Co. advertised two locations — 13 E. Superior St. and 14-16 W. First St.

The end of Golden Guernsey 4-percent milk in Duluth

December 1990

Unused cartons of Barnum’s milk show the old Golden Guernsey labels, which were phased out in 1990, the same year production of the 4-percent variety (right) stopped. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

Requiem for a heavyweight

Diet craze kills an institution built around Golden Guernsey 4% milk

By J.P. Furst, News-Tribune staff writer

This has been a lean year for “4-percent drinkers” in the Twin Ports, the hard-core consumers of a heavy, old-fashioned milk bottled in Duluth for nearly 40 years.

Barnum’s Golden Guernsey Milk – a creamy, high-fat milk produced only by Guernseys and packaged in Duluth’s West End – disappeared from local dairy cases last spring.

For longtime connoisseurs, it left an empty spot in the refrigerator and on the kitchen table.

It marked the passing of a Duluth institution, a local custom that harked back to the days when every neighborhood had its own dairy and the milkman brought glass-bottled milk to your door.

Like it said on the carton, “Guernsey cows are the only cows that give you milk like this.”

“There were a lot of true 4-percenters out there,” said Art Massie Jr., an ex-employee of the 49-year-old family business that distributes Barnum’s milk. “That milk had a real richness and ‘tastability’ to it. It was a unique product.”

In the heyday of high-fat milk, about 20 years ago, Massie said the Barnum’s line distributed about 5,000 half-gallons a week to corner groceries and the new supermarkets coming of age in Duluth.

“Those were the days when you had a grocery on every corner,” said Massie, 59. “You got to know the grocer and build a relationship, and you got to know your customers. The Barnum’s line was the only one that was in every Twin Ports store through those years.”

Art Massie Jr. is shown on Dec. 6, 1990, in front of the family business, which distributes Barnum’s milk. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

“It was mainly older people who bought it, people who may have grown up on creamier milk,” said Harvey Winthrop, owner of the Ideal Market in downtown Duluth. “They were looking for a richer milk, and Golden Guernsey was the richest on the market.”

It certainly was. Pure Guernsey milk contains 4-percent milkfat or more, at least 1 percent more than Holstein milk. It has 10 percent more milk solids in it. It has the consistency of half-and-half – almost like a thin milk shake.

It tasted great.

“Fat tastes good,” said Wally Gronholm, president and general manager at Franklin Foods in Duluth, which bottled the milk for Barnum’s. “It’s a fact. Most of us who like good food like fat. That’s why we like hamburgers and fries. they’re full of fat and they taste good.”

But most Americans are trimming fat out of their diets and that’s becoming obvious in milk-drinking habits. “Skim, 1- and 2-percent milks are the ones people are buying now. The average fat content of all the milk we bottle is less than 2 percent now. That’s a big change from 10 years ago.”

The demand for Golden Guernsey milk was drying up, said Steve Massie, Art’s nephew, who now owns the family business. They were distributing only about 1,000 half-gallons a week earlier this year.

The number of Guernseys milked by Northland farmers was also dwindling, and it was getting more expensive to truck the milk to market.

“It became unprofitable after a certain point,” said Massie, 40. “But you miss having something so completely unique on the market.”

Half-gallon cartons of Barnum’s milk roll down the production line at Franklin Foods in Duluth on Dec. 6, 1990. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

For some people, it was like when Fitger’s quit producing beer, or when Joe Huie’s cafe locked its doors for good. “We still get calls now and then, asking how come it’s not bottled anymore,” he said.

“They had their loyal customers, all right,” said Mark Miller, co-owner of Snow White Food Center on Wopdland Avenue. “That’s all some people would drink. They’d come in and buy the Guernsey milk religiously – until their doctors told them to drink lower-fat milk.”

The Barnum’s label itself is representative of the changes in the local milk business. It exists on paper only – or on wax cartons. The milk is actually packaged by Franklin Foods, as are Arrowhead and Kemps milk. The Massies’ company simply owns the right to the Barnum label and is a distributor.

Since dropping the Golden Guernsey line, Barnum’s milk is now similar to its competitors’ products, but people remain loyal, Steve Massie said.

“Barnum’s still exists because we have very loyal customers and we give good service,” said Massie, who remembers helping his grandfather, Art Massie Sr., package cottage cheese in his basement on St. Paul Avenue in the ’50s. “That’s been our family’s tradition since 1941. It’s the main ingredient in our success.”

Steve Massie of Massie Distributing, distributors of Barnum’s milk, loads a truck at the Franklin Foods Dairy in Duluth’s West End on Dec. 6, 1990. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

The only place in the Northland where 4-percent milk is still in the stores is around Ashland, Wis., he said. “We thought about buying our Guernsey milk from a bottler over in Waukesha, Wis., but it didn’t seem feasible to bring it in here.”

There’s a certain amount of Guernsey milk in all of the milk packed at the Franklin plant in Duluth, but it’s nothing you can taste. “All milk tastes pretty much the same once you take the fat out,” said Gronholm. “A Guernsey drinker might give me an argument about that, but it’s true.”

Were the Massies “true 4-percenters”? Did they pour that heavyweight milk, as viscous as 10W-40 motor oil, on their corn flakes at home?

Steve said, “Nah. We were down to 2 percent milk at my house.”

Art, a wiry man with a long memory, chuckled. “That’s what I’m down to, too.”

Even the milkman has to go with the flow.

– end –

After typing in this archive article, I’m a little confused about the lamentations over the loss of 4-percent milk. You can still buy whole milk – is that not the same thing? Was the “Golden Guernsey” variety something unique, unlike other brands of whole milk? If you remember – and if you know any more about when the Barnum’s brand name disappeared from local shelves – please post a comment.

And while we’re at it, can you think of any other unique, Northland-favorite food products, past or present? Over at Perfect Duluth Day there have been occasional discussions about Connolly’s Tom and Jerry Batter. What other local favorites can you think of? Again, post a comment to contribute to the conversation.

Jim’s Hamburgers, 1980

This Attic entry originally was posted in August 2008; I’m posting it again after seeing on the Perfect Duluth Day website that the last Jim’s Hamburgers location, on Superior Street in the West End, apparently has closed.

While apparently there is no absolute confirmation the cafe is closed for good, the windows are papered over. When I tried its last listed phone number, it had been disconnected.

So, for anyone who didn’t see this post the first time around, here’s a look back at Jim’s Hamburgers restaurants in Duluth:

November 27, 1980

Jim’s Hamburgers is crowded every day, so Jim and Jay Overlie stay open on Thanksgiving. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

JIM’S OPEN DOORS ARE A THANK YOU TO SOME FAMILIAR FACES

BY SANDY BATTIN OF THE NEWS-TRIBUNE STAFF

Time was, Jim’s Hamburgers was about the only place open on Thanksgiving. Jim Overlie kept his restaurants open on the holiday pretty much to serve his regular customers and anyone else passing through town – those with no place else to go.

There wasn’t any turkey and dressing, but the hamburgers and hotcakes were abundant.

Times have changed. Businesses have come and gone; buses that once brought hungry travelers downtown now arrive in western Duluth. And places like senior citizen centers offer hot holiday meals to the elderly.

But Jim’s Hamburgers still is open on Thanksgiving – as well as Christmas.

It’s a tradition that started in 1937, when Overlie first went into business. He worried about his regular customers, many old and without families, and about where they would eat holiday meals like Thanksgiving dinner.

“I always worked on the theory ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ ” Overlie, now retired, says. “A lot of our regular customers were retired people who didn’t have facilities to cook. People were good enough to give us their business all year around,” so Overlie figured he’d make sure those same people had someplace to eat on Thanksgiving.

Holiday business was a family project. Overlie’s son, Jay, who manages the four Jim’s Hamburgers restaurants, two on West Superior Street, one on East Fourth and the other at 502 E. First St., started working holidays as a boy.

“My daughter and son always came down on holidays,” Overlie says. “They’d rather come down at Christmas than stay home. They got greater satisfaction doing that than unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree.”

Waitresses would make cookies for some of their favorite customers and the elderly diners often would reciprocate with gift boxes of candy.

At one time, Christmas Eve was the busiest night of the year at Jim’s. Worshippers from nearby churches came in for after-service meals and last-minute shoppers thronged the place.

Jay Overlie stands in front of the Jim’s Hamburgers restaurant on West First Street. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

————————————————–

Jim’s Thanksgiving business has dropped off a bit. “There’s a few you always get, but it’s not like it used to be,” Jim Overlie said.

But the restaurants stay open on the holidays.

“It’s a hard thing to put in words,” Jay said. “It’s more of an obligation where customers appreciate the fact you’re interested in them, too.

“The customers recognize each other. They don’t always talk, but when one is missing, they notice. They care about one another.”

Even though he no longer works day-to-day in his restaurants, the elder Overlie expects to drop in at the three restaurants that will be open on Thanksgiving (the store at 414 W. Superior will be closed).

According to a News-Tribune article from April 1982, the Jim’s Hamburgers location at 414 W. Superior St. was sold off that month and became a restaurant called Bragg’s. That left three Jim’s Hamburgers locations – 502 E. Fourth St., 2005 W. Superior St. and 205 W. First St.

On June 10, 1995, the News Tribune carried news that the original Jim’s Hamburgers location, the one on First Street, had just closed. Jim Overlie had sold his restaurants in 1985. New owner Dick Christensen said the cost of required health and fire code improvements were too high at the First Street restaurant, which seated 14 at the counter and 24 in the booths, and which in its earliest days was called the Blue and White Restaurant.

At the time, Christensen also owned the Jim’s Hamburgers locations on Fourth Street and in the West End on Superior Street. Here is a photo of the Fourth Street location from December 1996:

And here is a photo of the West End location from February 2001, when its owners were fighting the city smoking ban:

The East Fourth Street Jim’s Hamburgers location now is home to Quizno’s sandwich shop, which opened in April 2006 (though Jim’s Hamburgers is still listed in the phone book at that address). That left the West End location of Jim’s Hamburgers as the only one still in business in August 2008 when this post was first written. It remained open in early 2011 (the last time I was in there), but as of February 2012 appears to have closed.

Old-school Taco John’s

January 18, 1976

This photo of a Taco John’s restaurant has no caption information other than the date – Jan. 18, 1976. But given the guard rail you can see in the background on the right, and the house in the background on the left, I’m thinking this is the Taco John’s on London Road – before it was expanded, of course. Do you agree? Or do you think this is somewhere else?

Wherever it was, a sign barely visible through the front windows appears to show a “Taco Tuesday” special of 25-cent tacos:

The News Tribune files are pretty sparse on information about when Taco John’s expanded into the area. What year did they arrive? Was the London Road location the first one in town?

Share your memories by posting a comment.

Taystee bakery closes in Duluth’s West End, 1987

November 13, 1987

Lights glow at the Taystee Bread bakery, 2326 W. Superior St., as loaves are “baked while you sleep” in March 1983. The beam of light is from a passing car. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

After today, Taystee bakes no more

By Mike Hughlett, News-Tribune staff writer

Today will be the last time Earl Sellards helps you make a sandwich.

Sellards will preside over the mixer at the Taystee bakery that blends 700 pounds of water, flour, yeast and shortening into a blob of dough big enough to make 25,000 loves of bread a day.

But that isn’t nearly enough to beat the plant’s competitors. The machines in the 66-year-old bakery at 2326 W. Superior St. don’t have the muscle to move any faster. So when Taystee bakers bag their last loaf today, another Duluth industry – large-scale commercial baking – will disappear.

Heileman Baking Co. bought the Taystee plant from American Baking Co. last summer and decided to end its baking operations today. The plant will continue to receive bread from Heileman’s St. Paul bakery and ship it throughout the Northland. But 33 of the approximately 65 jobs in the plant will vanish.

“It looks like I’ll close it up,” Sellards said.

Bob Veillet turns out enough dough to make 640 large loves of bread at Duluth’s Taystee’s bakery in March 1983. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Sellards said about 500 people worked in Duluth’s commercial baking industry when he started at Taystee 31 years ago. Most worked at the Taystee plant and at Zinsmaster Baking Co. in the West End.

In his younger days, Sellards had to pour 100-pound sacks of flour and bulging bags of raisins and sugar into the dough mixer. Now, the raw materials are pumped into the mixer by machine.

But otherwise, the job hasn’t changed much.

Sellards will spend today tending an elastic ooze that will become white, rye, wheat and raisin bread by the time the plant closes. After the bread rises for 4 1/2 hours, he’ll give it a solid punch to let air escape. Then He’ll throw the glop back into a mixer.

Beads of perspiration will coat his temples and forehead. His white T-shirt and white pants – a standard baker’s uniform – will be mottled with light stains. Flour will encrust the joints of his fingers and dust his forearms.

Sellards and his co-workers make enough bread every minute to keep a family in a host of toast for three months. But Heileman’s competitors, as well as its own plants in other cities, can bake four times as much bread per minute, Sellards said. The other plants have newer machines, some run by computers.

“You just punch buttons, that’s all you do,” he said.

Bob Benson, Tom Anderson and Dean Derosier unload baked bread and load up unbaked loaves at the Taystee bakery ovens in Duluth in March 1983. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Sellards and others said they saw the end coming at Taystee long ago. The plants longtime owner, American Baking Co., did nothing to prevent the plant from becoming a relic.

“This place was so outdated. It was just a matter of time,” said Tim Sullivan, the plant’s shipping foreman, who has worked at Taystee for 10 years. “If I walked in here and saw what this place had, I’d shut it down.”

Heileman decided to do exactly that a month after it bought four American Bakery plants in June. The company offered 33 break makers in Duluth the chance to take jobs at Taystee bakeries in St. Paul or Madison, Wis.

Jerry Rudolph said he and five other workers accepted Heileman’s offer. He’s got an apartment ready to rent in Shoreview, Minn.

“They say it’s a lot nicer down there,” he said as he snatched a pan of bread from the oven. “They say it’s gonna be a real nice job.”

Roger Halverson operates a dough cutter at the Duluth Taystee bakery in March 1983. It cuts the dough into 1 1/2-pound  loaves. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Cal Jasper works aside Rudolph flipping fresh-baked loves onto carts bound for the slicing machine. The air around the oven is filled with the pleasant smell of fresh bread. It also is hot, but not as sweltering as in July, when the temperature near the oven soars well over 100 degrees.

A stocky man with a full beard, Jasper was hired at the bakery almost 10 years ago when he was 21. At $9 an hour, the job paid him well enough to raise a family.

His family will keep him in Duluth, even though he could work in Taystee’s St. Paul bakery.

“I’ve lived in a lot of smaller communities and I didn’t want to raise a family in a big city,” he said. “I grew up on the St. Louis River. To go down and have my family grow up on the pavement – I just couldn’t see it.”

Taystee bakery production manager Don Haglund checks out a freshly baked loaf of bread at the Duluth plant in October 1981. (Karl Jaros / Duluth Herald)

Jasper, like other workers, may be eligible for job retraining money through the Jobs Training and Partnership Act. The city of Duluth and Clyde Iron plan to give Taystee workers some excess money from a $72,500 state grant awarded to Clyde. The state, however, must agree to the city’s proposal.

Because Jasper didn’t quite work 10 years at Taystee, he is ineligible for even a minimum pension, unlike Sellards and Ron Nichols, who has worked at the plant since the 1950s.

Nichols cleaned flour and scrap dough from the bread assembly line for most of his years at the plant. Today. he’ll work on the stretch of the line where bread dough plops into pans.

But even a 34-year veteran like Nichols won’t receive much more than $500 a month in pension money after the baking operation folds. Saturday, he’ll be looking for a new line of work at age 53.

– end –

The Taystee bakery still stands today; it’s the home of Northern Business Products at the corner of Superior Street and 24th Avenue West.

Here are a few more News-Tribune / Herald file photos of the Taystee bakery while it was still in operation:

Curtis Brosseau of Duluth takes unbaked loaves of bread to the ovens at the Taystee bakery in Duluth’s West End in October 1981. (Karl Jaros / Duluth Herald)

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Bob Benson (right), head oven operator, and Bob Sawyer, flip table operator, work at the Duluth Taystee Bread bakery in October 1981. (Karl Jaros / Duluth Herald)

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Bob Veillet punches down dough at the Taystee bakery in Duluth’s West End in October 1981. (Karl Jaros / Duluth Herald)

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Mike Mallory of Duluth loads up a truck at the Taystee Bread bakery on Oct. 18, 1981. (Karl Jaros / Duluth Herald)

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The Taystee bakery discount store in Duluth, October 1981. (Karl Jaros / Duluth Herald)

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As noted in the story, there was another large bakery nearby – the Zinsmaster Bread Co., later Metz Baking Co., at 2831 W. Superior St. That bakery closed in 1980; the building burned in late 2010. Its last tenant was Peerless Auto Body.

Share your memories by posting a comment.

Assemble the best Northland restaurant meal of all time

Any Attic post involving restaurants inevitably spurs stories of long-lamented menu items that readers wish they could taste just one more time – stuff like, say, the onion rings at King Leo’s or the London Inn.

So, I’d like to devote this post to those memories of favorite foods from restaurants past and present in Duluth, Superior and elsewhere in the region. If you could assemble a perfect meal from those establishments, what would it be?

Mix and match – pick an appetizer from one place, an entree from another and dessert from a third restaurant. Combine stuff from a restaurant still open with food from one closed for 40 years. Or just pick one item – whatever you want.

Think it over, and then share your choices by posting a comment. And if seeing others’ food selections jogs your memory, by all means post again. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Pop Shoppe pop is back in the Northland

One of the first News Tribune Attic posts, back in early 2008, included this 1977 photo of Central Entrance, which showed the Pop Shoppe:

As I learned then, the Pop Shoppe was a retailer that sold returnable, refillable bottles of soda in several flavors; customers could mix and match their soda selections. You can find more background here.

The original Pop Shoppe went out of business in the 1980s, but the brand has been revived in the past decade in Canada and the U.S., with the pop sold at gas stations, convenience stores and other locations (instead of Pop Shoppe-branded stores).

And now, you can find it again in the Northland. Last week I stopped in at the Super America on Miller Trunk Highway out near Pike Lake, and found these in the cooler:

These are two of the eight flavors bottled by the “new” Pop Shoppe (including cream soda, which apparently had a lot of fans). I don’t know if they are in fact the original soda “recipes,” but I can say that the cola had a unique flavor – certainly different than Coke, Pepsi or RC. A little sweeter and less bite than some colas. The “lime ricky” wasn’t bad, but wasn’t all that good, either.

Want to try some for yourself? The company’s website lists many other Minnesota outlets, including several along the I-35 corridor. The Pike Lake Super America isn’t listed; I’m not sure if the soda is available anywhere else in the Twin Ports area. I also don’t know how long it has been back here – but last week was the first time I saw it.

Share your Pop Shoppe memories and sightings by posting a comment.