To keep the last café open, city of Goodridge runs it, along with the bar, liquor store
GOODRIDGE, Minn. — This past February, Shannon Moen added restaurant management to her list of duties as the city clerk here.
That’s when Goodridge, home to 132 people and located in northeast Pennington County, opted to forgo finding another owner for the city-owned café and instead reopen and run the establishment itself as the Country Side Grill.
“The first night we opened, we had the mayor’s wife in (the kitchen) and even some City Council members in there cooking because there wasn’t anyone,” Moen said.
Aside from clerking, Moen also manages another staple becoming rarer each year in small towns — a city-owned bar and liquor store. When Moen’s not looking over the restaurant’s finances, her days are spent mixing drinks and ringing up customers’ liquor purchases.
The bar and liquor store has been under city control since 1947. The city entered the restaurant business in 2005, after getting a federal grant to open a new café after the last one closed early in the decade. But, prior to February, management of the café was left to a series of owners who would make payments to the city. Moen said the last owner closed the café at the beginning of the year.
Now keeping the café opened will be a community effort.
Taking over the café has proven to be a learning experience for Moen.
One of her first lessons was that kitchen equipment can be pricey.
A used chicken broaster recently came up for sale near Goodridge, but the price tag would prove to be too much for the café.
That’s where the community comes in — or in this case Moen’s father.
“He got it for $5,000, gave it to us and said the café can pay him back when it can,” she said.
The community’s generosity extends beyond the kitchen. In addition to the hundreds of portraits that serve as a veterans memorial, the café’s walls also feature wooden signs given by another community member.
While the café sits on Minnesota Highway 219, Moen said much of the business is local.
Last week, Rodney and Sharon Wayne were enjoying lunch in the café. The pair has come in once or twice a week for the last 35 years and has seen the restaurant through several owners.
“We’ve been coming since it opened,” Sharon said, dunking a chicken drummy in ranch. “It’s usually really good.”
City ownership will mark another new chapter in the café’s history. Moen said she’s dropped the prices and is interested in seeing the restaurant at least break even. In the meantime, some of the city’s liquor profits have been used to supplement the restaurant’s income.
“We just really want to keep a café in the town,” Moen said.
Three blocks away, the liquor store and bar stand as a testament to the community’s passion to keep the city-run businesses open.
Housed together in one building, the liquor store is squeezed into a small room near the bar’s front door.
The bar features the usual mainstays such as a pool table, popcorn machine and jukebox but a closer look and few quick stories from Moen reveal what the town has put into keeping it updated.
Moen serves customers drinks at a newly constructed horseshoe bar, its top crafted by another local. There are some cracks but Moen said its maker has promised they will be fixed in time for the town’s centennial celebration next summer.
The liquor business has been making a steady profit since Moen took over seven years ago. She and about a half dozen part-timers keep the store and bar running.
The Goodridge Municipal Liquor Store was one of 114 city-owned liquor establishments operating in 2012 in the state of Minnesota — down from 230 in 2003.
Moen said a lot of small-town municipal liquor stores are struggling, but she hopes Goodridge’s remains profitable and, more importantly, open.
The bar space serves as a gathering place for birthday parties and other celebrations along with giving a home to nightly bingo games.
At the end of the day, the city’s efforts to keep the café and liquor store open come down to its residents’ wishes.
“We’re trying to do what people want,” Moen said.