Owners of burned-out Dorset restaurants call it quits

The Dorset House burned down last September.
The Dorset House restaurant burned down Sept. 4, 2014. Owners Rick and Laura Kempnich say they have decided not to rebuild.
Sarah Smith | Park Rapids Enterprise 2014

Dorset, Minn., population 22, has seen better days.

The small northern Minnesota town, which bills itself as the "Restaurant Capital of the World," lost half its restaurants last September in a fire. Now, after six months of cleanup, owners of the burned-out restaurants have decided not to rebuild.

In the days after Companeros and The Dorset House burned, owners Rick and Laura Kempnich said they were considering a rebuild. They even found a contractor and drafted plans for the new building.

In a letter posted Monday to Facebook, Rick Kempnich said he had decided against the project.

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"It seems that selling now might be the best," he wrote. He's 65 and hopes to retire.

Now the names of both restaurants are up for sale, along with those plans for a new building and two leveled downtown lots.

The tiny town east of Park Rapids was built on food service.

For years, four restaurants brought in tourists. A gift shop industry sprang up to cater to the crowds waiting for tables. Half those tables are gone.

Dorset's only bookstore, Sister Wolf, closed at the end of last season. But Joan Grover, owner of the Antique Stop, said the town's outlook is not that bad.

"I'm honestly not looking for a slower season," she said. "We don't want any negative bah-humbug stuff."

Come Mother's Day weekend, when the Minnesota fishing opener helps get Dorset's tourist season rolling, the two remaining restaurants will expand their menus and hours to take up the slack, she said.

A new coffee shop is setting up in the bookstore's building, and Grover is confident someone will buy Kempnich's burned-out lots. Mainly, though, she thinks people will show loyalty to Dorset.

"Dorset has been such an important part of people's lives for so long," she said. "I think people will still come."