GF icon to celebrate anniversary Saturday with '60s theme

It's gone through a name change and a remodel, but The Kegs restaurant keeps its customers because of just how little has really changed during its 75 years in Grand Forks.

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Becky Hanson and her sister, Laura, became the third set of owners about 10 years ago. She heard the previous owner was ready to sell and soon decided to make the plunge into the restaurant business.

The north-end restaurant has been a summer tradition for generations and is getting ready to celebrate its long run in Grand Forks.

"The Kegs is 75 years old, more or less," Hanson said. "Most of the reports that we have say that it was built in 1935; a couple of them say 1936."

The restaurant has held monthly celebrations of the big anniversary since it opened this spring. Carhops dressed in 1930s and 1940s-era outfits in May. June was reserved for the 1950s, so all the girls wore poodle skirts.

The Kegs is set to hold its biggest anniversary party today, complete with flower power costumes and an Elvis impersonator during the lunch rush to give customers a flashback to the 1960s.

"That was the heyday, so we're doing our big celebration for the '60s," Hanson said.

Staying the same

Located amid a residential neighborhood along North Fifth Street, the drive-in grabs the attention of passing motorists. Two enormous wooden kegs and retro ordering boards along the 14 parking spots out front make it hard to miss.

It started off as The Barrel, a regional chain of seven walk-up stands that also had a presence in Crookston.

But the other locations closed over the decades. The Barrel became The Kegs when the barrel from Wadena, Minn., was moved to Grand Forks in the 1960s.

Hanson said there have been a few other changes along the way. About five years ago, the two kegs had a drastic remodel because the orange bamboo covering was starting to rot.

New wooden slats changed the look but also helped give the namesake kegs a new lease on life, she said.

Still, parents who bring their children to their old favorite hangout can't tell the difference.

"A lot of them come back and say, 'It's just like I remembered,'" Hanson said.

That's the goal for Hanson -- to give returning customers a sense of nostalgia as they come back to a place that has long been a summer hotspot.

When she purchased the business, she had one condition for the previous owner: she would get the recipes for sloppy joes and homemade onion rings, the two best-selling menu items to this day.

And Hanson isn't going to give up the secret to her onion rings.

"It's not really a secret ingredient, but I'm not going to tell you how to make them," she said, laughing. "It's not that difficult; it's just time-consuming."

Cherry Cokes and double-barrel burgers are also popular.

The parking lot will be repaved in the next couple of years, which would give carhops a new, smooth surface for skating up to customers' vehicles.

Hanson said she doesn't have any plans of making the restaurant a year-round dining choice, even though The Kegs is usually swamped with customers Monday through Saturday once it opens for the summer in mid-April.

The business doesn't have a furnace, and she doesn't want to install one, either.

"It's kind of like a rite of spring when this place opens up," she said.

She said customers shouldn't expect many changes to The Kegs in the next decade, and that's a good thing.

"It's the nostalgia thing," she said. "Everybody comes for the way The Kegs used to be and the way The Kegs still is.

"I just think it's tradition, and it's been an icon in Grand Forks for 75 years."

Johnson reports on local business. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com.