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Grand Forks restaurateur Kim Holmes remembered for personality, commitment to community

Holmes, 78, died on Wednesday, March 30, at Altru Hospital, according to a death notice.

Kim Holmes, former owner of Grand Forks' downtown restaurant Sanders 1907.
Kim Holmes was the owner of Sanders 1907 in downtown Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Kim Holmes, longtime Grand Forks businessman and restaurant owner, will be remembered for a personality that was "bigger than life" and for sharing a love of food and service with those who worked for him. Holmes, 78, died on Wednesday, March 30, at Altru Hospital, according to a death notice.

The local restaurateur came to Grand Forks in the 1980s and took over the former downtown restaurant Sanders 1907. The restaurant later renamed to Sky's and is now on the second floor of Edgewood Corporate Plaza at 322 DeMers Ave.

Over the years, the restaurant grew from seating 50 to seating 100. As it grew, so did its reputation.

“His restaurant was an iconic restaurant that was known throughout the region. It was known throughout Winnipeg, it was known statewide and even regionally,” said Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce.

He said Holmes’s personality was “bigger than life.”

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“He always had that infectious smile,” said Wilfahrt. “He came around and talked to everybody at every table and made you feel like you wanted to go into his restaurant.”

Mike Jacobs, former Herald publisher, also remarked on Holmes’ “huge personality” and spoke of the eating experience at Sanders.

“You think of fine dining and you think of kind of a hoity-toity place, but there was neither hoit nor toit at Sanders,” he said. “It was a down-home, damn fine dining place.”

Jonathan Holth, co-owner of the Toasted Frog, worked as a server for three years at Sanders when it was located where Ely’s Ivy currently resides. Holth says Holmes is “ultimately responsible” for him being in the dining industry at all. Holmes told Holth he had a future in the industry, something Holth says he hadn’t considered beyond a job to navigate through college.

Holth said Holmes always remembered where he was and that they were all providing hospitality for people in the heartland.

“There was no pretentiousness to it,” Holth said. “He taught me, and I think so many others, how to produce an experience for people that more than anything that made them feel comfortable — everything else came secondary.”

Holth added that Holmes made everyone feel like they were the most important person in the room.

“He was a big personality, but he wanted you to know that you were more important than anyone else there. It really created this incredible foundation of everybody being able to experience good food, beverage and service,” he said. “It didn’t matter your job, where you were from, your class, how much money you had — everybody was welcome at Sanders. Kim felt that everybody deserved good food and hospitality.”

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That mindset has spread throughout Grand Forks as Sanders employees worked elsewhere in the community, Holth noted.

“He was so encouraging for people in their careers and their life experiences,” Holth said. “When people moved on from Sanders to go to other restaurants Kim was their biggest champion and would come visit them at other restaurants. He was always a supporter of his people.”

Holth said Holmes always made everyone feel like family — whether they worked for Holmes or were guests at the restaurant. It’s something Holth says he and his business partner Shawn Clapp try to emulate today at their restaurant.

Kim Holmes, former owner of Grand Forks' downtown restaurant Sanders 1907, stands Thursday in the Alley of Love, an alley behind his restaurant known for attracting lovers. Holmes now enjoys retirement with his wife, Beth. (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)
Kim Holmes, former owner of Grand Forks' downtown restaurant Sanders 1907, stands in the Alley of Love, an alley behind his restaurant known for attracting lovers in this Herald file photo. (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)

Holmes retired from the restaurant business in 2014.

Those who commented on his death notice on the Norman Funeral Home website also shared memories of Holmes. One commenter, Ian Dickmeyer from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, thanked Holmes “for creating a love of good food in me.” He said working for and with Holmes at Sanders created “an appreciation for dining and service that will never be forgotten and will be passed down to all I know.”

In a 2016 story about Holmes , the Herald wrote that he originally had planned to stick with the restaurant for three years and then move on. But something about Grand Forks kept him in the area.

"I love it here. This is the longest place I've stayed in my life," he said of Grand Forks in 2016. "This town has been good to me."

Longtime Herald food columnist Marilyn Hagerty said Holmes became a good friend throughout the years. She said she could always count on Holmes to show up for her cookie days in the park and added that Holmes was “just a positive person” who made Grand Forks a “richer place.”

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Holmes built one of the “finest restaurants in the area” after he opened Sanders 1907.

“He was certainly one of the most outstanding people that made Grand Forks what it is,” Hagerty said. “Grand Forks is such a good place to live because of people like him.”

In a 2008 column, Hagerty wrote that Holmes had a “genial, flamboyant personality and is well known for his support of community events and for befriending and encouraging other local restaurateurs.”

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Kim Holmes makes a joke to the Mayor, Michael Brown at Arbor Park in Downtown Grand Forks, ND on Wednesday July 15, 2015. (Grand Forks Herald/ Joshua Komer)

Holmes, a native of Hagerstown, Maryland, grew up immersed in the culinary arts. Hagerty wrote that Holmes’ love for cooking stretched back to his boyhood, when he learned from grandmothers. He worked cooking jobs in college and spent several years working in restaurants in Italy and Switzerland, Hagerty wrote.

Not only did Holmes bring fine dining to Grand Forks, but Jacobs said he brought something else: An appreciation for wine.

“The other thing that must be said about Kim is that he brought wine to Grand Forks,” Jacobs said. “He had a much broader notion about what wine was than most of the established restaurants in Grand Forks then. … He had a different sensibility than North Dakotans do about wine. What the hell do we know about wine? We know more now because of Kim.”

After the Flood of 1997 damaged many downtown businesses, including Sanders 1907, Holmes was one of the first business owners to reopen downtown, said Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation. Holmes encouraged other businesses to do the same.

“As soon as he could, he reopened in downtown Grand Forks, which is really where he belonged,” Lund said. “He made a commitment from the very first moment to reinvest in the community. The community had been good to him, and he’s certainly been very good to the community.”

1870316+071515.N.GFH_.ALLEY_6.JPG
Dumpsters have gotten a makeover by various artist along the Alley of Love in Downtown Grand Forks, ND on Wednesday July 15, 2015. (Grand Forks Herald/ Joshua Komer)

In July 2015, the city honored Holmes by naming the alley behind Ely’s Ivy the Kim Holmes Alley of Love . When Sanders 1907 was located there, he and Jon Bonzer, owner of Bonzer’s Sandwich Pub, started calling it the Alley of Love after noticing it was a popular place for couples to meet in the evenings.

"We would walk back and forth to each other's places after we got done with our main shifts," Holmes told the Herald in 2016. "In the spring, that's when I started noticing that every nook and cranny had people making out."

A cause of death was not listed in the death notice.

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Manager Krystne Davis told the Herald the restaurant would close at 3 p.m. Thursday, and there are no plans to reopen elsewhere.

Related Topics: RESTAURANTS AND BARS
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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