When Mary Kippen Morgan would look at the old J.C. Penney store building in Grafton, N.D., she kept having a vision. The place had been sitting empty for years on the main street.
Instead of it continuing unused on Hill Street, she could see the building with shopping areas. Maybe even a casual eating place.
Today, the old Penney store is called Luscious, and it has a small, trendy café in the back. It has begun attracting more customers who find their way to the rear of the store. There they discover an eating and meeting place for people who shop in Grafton. There's a menu board featuring soup, sandwiches, wraps and goodies. There are salads and homemade cookies. Also grinders. And coffee, of course. Beer and wine also is available.
We tried a smattering of everything when we gathered as a group in Grafton. My Eatbeat companions that day were Susie Shaft and Debby Lloyd. We were joined by friends from nearby Hoople and Cavalier who sometimes shop in Grafton.
We studied the menu board as we looked around the café decorated with area paraphernalia. We found some traces of the former Whitey's in East Grand Forks.
There are a couple of booths. A few tables. Old-fashioned hanging lamps. All in all, there is a feel of well-being and adventure in the Luscious Bistro and Bakery. And the restaurant at the rear of the store gradually is becoming better known. At times, there are special events. Such as taproom takeovers featuring nearby Rhombus Guys, Revelation Ale or Half Brothers.
Morgan credits the growth and success to her manager, Kati Bruce. And the vision Morgan long has harbored is taking place.
Morgan majored in apparel and textiles at North Dakota State University. She is married to Todd Morgan, editor of the Walsh County Record. They have two young children - Boden, 3, and Eliza, 1.
When she leased the old building, she had antiques in mind. Now trendy clothing is a welcome for customers who are discovering restaurant fare in the building.
It has been eight years since Morgan leased the old building that sold Penney's in 1983. It had been empty much of the time. Now with its trendy women's fare on the main floor, it also has what is called the Luscious balcony. That area is resplendent with gold painted accessories and can be rented out for birthdays, wedding showers, graduation parties. The original wooden floors are still there. So, too, are the tin ceilings. Circular tables accommodate 80. And it can be a gathering place for groups of up to 200.
"It took a while," Morgan says. "We got there piece by piece."
It seems as though food was the answer. Morgan says the small café at the rear of the building keeps bringing in more customers. They enjoy the conglomeration of chairs, tables, booths. They seem to like the hanging lamps. There is a feeling of adventure and well being in the Luscious Bistro and Bakery.
The total area for business in the old building is 7,500 square feet. And the vision Mary English Morgan harbored gradually grows more clear with food.
Since venturing into a business to put more life on main street, Morgan is finding it takes food along with hospitality.
"In a small town," she says, "you can diversify."
518 Hill Avenue
Owner: Mary Kippen Morgan
Manager: Kati Bruce
Telephone: (701) 331-9453
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 3 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
Report card: Homemade lunch fare served among unique old-time décor drawing more daytime shoppers to downtown Grafton. Long an empty J.C. Penney building, Luscious is adding interest to the main drag.