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Grand Forks institution the Kegs set for major renovation

Inside, the building has been gutted and the equipment is gone. The old walk-in cooler was made of wood and was torn apart layer by layer, like peeling an onion.

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Siblings Laura and Rick Hanson are co-owners of The Kegs Drive-Inn and are hoping to reopen the iconic north-end restaurant in May. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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The owners of the Kegs, the venerable restaurant tucked away on North Fifth Street, are determined to reopen in May, after a project to upgrade the plumbing and electrical systems burgeoned into a full-blown remodel of the building.

The Kegs closed in the fall of 2019, at the end of its normal season. The idea was to do some demolition work and make some upgrades, which have long been needed. Once the initial work was started and after a bevy of city inspectors toured the building, they discovered structural problems, including sagging beams, that needed to be replaced. Despite the mounting problems and rising costs, the owners say closing down never crossed their minds.

“Not us; I’m not doing that,” said Laura Hanson, standing in front of the Kegs on Thursday, Dec. 10, with her brother, Rick. The Hansons have owned the Grand Forks icon for more than 20 years with their sister, Becky.

Inside, the building has been gutted and the equipment is gone. The old walk-in cooler was made of wood and was torn apart layer by layer, like peeling an onion.

Months-long project

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Alongside the electrical and plumbing work -- two tiny bathrooms need to be remodeled into one -- the building needs a new floor and exhaust hoods, not to mention a new Ansul fire suppression system. Laura Hanson called the situation a “conglomerate of a mess,” including the barrels.

Each one has an upstairs room; one was used as an office and the other for storage. The Hansons want to remove the floors to accommodate the hoods, but that means another problem.

“Well, they're afraid, if we take the floors out, the barrels will collapse,” she said, and added they are considering a wagon wheel-like device to hold them together.

They are determined to carry on with a Grand Forks tradition that celebrated its 75th anniversary a little over a decade ago. DuWayne Heyd, of Heyd Cement and Fence Construction, will do the work, and he’s familiar with the place. He re-finished the outside of the barrels in 2006. Heyd said he is looking forward to the project.

“We’re excited about the Kegs; everybody loves the Kegs,” he said.

Rick Hanson said he expects work will begin in earnest in January, and he realizes what a task it will be.

“I guess the best way to put it is preserving the integrity of the building and finding a way to come within the city codes, because the two don’t match,” he said.

According to Laura Hanson, the building complies with city building codes -- from the 1940s. It has been grandfathered in over the decades because upgrades were never carried out. Once work begins, she said, that grandfather clause disappears. And she is fine with that.

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“It was time to do all this,” she said.

The Hansons know the project will be costly, but Laura Hanson doesn’t want donations. They have long been setting aside funds for the renovation, which could run more than $100,000. They said they will work with Heyd to keep costs down so they can keep making memories at the restaurant.

And the stories they tell of their customers are heart-warming.

“‘I asked my wife to marry me in the parking lot right there,’” said Laura Hanson, relating a customer’s tale. “‘This was our first date, we came here after prom.’ It goes and goes."

“A guy pulls up with a ‘62 Chevy and says ‘I bought this thing brand new in 1962; this is the first place I came,’” said Rick Hanson.

The Hansons first priority is keeping the restaurant where it’s at, in the near-north side of Grand Forks. Should the project become prohibitively expensive, they will consider other ideas, such as tearing down the building that connects the barrels and putting a food truck there, or even taking the barrels off and reattaching them to another building, so they can continue to offer the signature dishes of sloppy Joe’s and onion rings. Those options will only be considered as a last resort, and no matter what the Kegs needs to be a North Grand Forks business, according to Rick Hanson.

“It's part of the neighborhood,” he said. “You would have to be a real jerk to move it off the near-north side."

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The Kegs co-owners, Laura and Rick Hanson, walk through the interior of the drive-in under construction this week. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: GRAND FORKS
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
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