EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — Whitey’s, an iconic East Grand Forks restaurant dating back to the Prohibition Era, is closing to make way for a Fargo-based eatery.
Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews will move into the restaurant at 121 DeMers Ave., Starmark Hospitality announced Monday. Starmark owns the Sickies restaurant at 1419 S. Columbia Road. It expects to make the move in November. Whitey’s will close Friday, owner Tim Bjerk said.
“There has just been an outpouring of having a bigger place and bigger parking lot,” Starmark owner Scott Upton said.
The Grand Forks Sickies will stay open for now, and Starmark will assess whether to keep both locations open, Upton said.
Renovations are planned for the Whitey’s location, according to a news release. It’s possible Whitey’s could be moved into the banquet area in the basement, but it’s unclear if and how the restaurant’s legacy will continue.
“We are looking at a few options of keeping Whitey’s in the basement,” Upton said. “We are trying to implement the Whitey’s name some way into our concept up there in Grand Forks. How we do that, we haven’t decided yet.”
Rumors had been circulating in town about the business changing owners, but Bjerk and Starmark only confirmed the deal Monday.
Edwin “Whitey” Larson originally opened the business in 1925 as the Coney Island Lunchroom. The name changed to Whitey’s Wonderbar in 1932.
Greg Stennes, who worked as a manager in the restaurant, bought it in 1973 along with a group of partners. The restaurant was rebuilt at its present location after its former building was demolished to make room for the dike after the 1997 flood. Its distinctive horseshoe-shaped bar and art deco interior moved from the original site.
In 2010, Stennes sold the business to Dave Norman, who briefly ran the restaurant as Whitey’s Steaks and Seafood. The building was leased to Norman and a group of investors before it closed in February 2011.
Stennes and other investors put the restaurant up for auction shortly after the closing and Bjerk reopened it in September 2011.
Stennes called Whitey’s a “landmark restaurant” of East Grand Forks but said it probably was not doing enough business to be viable.
“Of course I would have liked Whitey’s to continue on the path I was on when I was involved,” Stennes said. “I think they are doing a great job, but you need numbers.”
Bjerk said there was no particular business reason for selling the restaurant. He said he was grateful that East Grand Forks made him and the staff at Whitey’s “feel like an East Sider.” He is also excited Sickies is taking over the restaurant.
“We were proud to be a part of that community,” Bjerk said. “When we purchased the building from the Stennes group, it was always our intention to take it from a closed restaurant, get it remodeled, get it up and running and have a successful restaurant to be able to sell to somebody else.”
Upton said Sickies management will visit with staff to see who is interested in staying and “who fits and who doesn’t.”