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For some Greater Grand Forks restaurants, Thanksgiving isn't a time for a day off

Blue Moose Bar and Grill, for instance, is expecting 600-700 diners on Thanksgiving. At Ely's Ivy, preparations are underway for 80 takeaway dinners.

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Ely's Ivy owner Scott Franz snaps green beans in preparation for the restaurant's Thanksgiving dinner, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. At left is Skyler Peltier.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — For many, Thanksgiving comes as a relaxing respite. For some Greater Grand Forks restaurants, however, it means long days in the kitchen leading up to and during the holiday.

Among them is Ely's Ivy, a downtown restaurant owned by Scott Franz.

For the past four years, Ely's Ivy has been preparing takeaway dinners for approximately 80 customers, a number that has grown since the restaurant began serving the meals according to Franz. He said the effects of the COVID pandemic, with restrictions on in-person dining, was a boon for business.

“We started the year before COVID, but really saw demand peak in 2020,” said Franz. “We had staff on duty, and tried to come up with different ideas to keep them busy, and keep money rolling in. It turned out people wanted elaborate meals, not only during Thanksgiving, but also during the other major eating holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day."

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Franz said demand is so high for Thanksgiving meals the restaurant is forced to cap reservations at 80 orders.

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"We typically sell out every year," said Franz. "Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we're limited in how many meals we can serve."

Across the river in East Grand Forks, the Blue Moose Bar and Grill continues its 27-year tradition of serving Thanksgiving meals. Unlike Ely's Ivy, The Blue Moose offers sit-down service, with this year's meal slated to run from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Thanksgiving. According to co-owner Nate Sheppard, the number of diners has increased significantly in recent years.

"Fifteen years ago, it wasn't very well attended," said Sheppard. "We were only making a few plates. Now, every Thanksgiving for the past five years has been 10% busier than the previous year. The phone has been ringing off the hook for the past few days for reservations. We're expecting 600-700 people in the five hour window that we're open."

Sheppard said he believes attendance is up due to both the restaurant's use of quality ingredients, and economic conditions making the cost of home preparation and dining out more comparable.

"I just don't think many people are cooking at home anymore," said Sheppard. "With inflation making groceries so much more expensive, and the time that goes into making Thanksgiving dinner, I think people figure it's a better deal to eat out."

At Ely's Ivy there is nearly a week-long preparation period for Thanksgiving.

“We make everything from scratch,” Franz said. “The gravy is made from the turkeys we bring in, so we have to carve and cook them ahead of time in order to use the stock for the gravy. We roast fresh pumpkins to use in our pies, although we do buy pre-made shells because it would take too long to make them all in such a short window of time. ... A lot of it is just me and one other cook, because we still have other operations going. However, I try to get all of my staff involved as we get closer to Thanksgiving.”

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Franz said each pre-made Thanksgiving plate feeds approximately three people. Reservations are required, with a deadline of Nov. 22, or until capacity is reached.

Like Ely’s Ivy, the preparation process at the Blue Moose is extensive due to the restaurant’s commitment to homemade preparation.

“We start prepping on Monday,” said Sheppard. “First, we start by cutting the potatoes, and preparing the bread for stuffing. Then we’ll cook the turkeys, and carve them the day after they’ve been cooked to allow them to cool. There are typically four to five prep staff each day. Staff arrive at 5 a.m. on the morning of Thanksgiving to prepare the gravy, and heat the rest of the food for serving.”

Although the meal is plated, Sheppard said it is all you can eat.

“People are welcome to take a plate to go, and eat it as leftovers,” he said.

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