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Minnesota Nice Cafe to relocate next to Woolen Mills this summer

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BEMIDJI — A customer recently approached Jeanette Proulx after lunch, praising her cafe’s onion rings and suggesting it rename its meatloaf sandwich the Greg’s Belly Buster.

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Proulx, owner of Minnesota Nice Cafe, laughed and thanked the man for stopping by. That’s indicative of the atmosphere at Minnesota Nice Cafe, which for seven years has been serving homemade fare at 414 Beltrami Ave. NW.

But the cafe, whose pancakes last year garnered national attention, is now preparing to relocate.

Proulx has purchased a building along Irvine Avenue North that formerly housed Snow Goose Gifts and Bad Cat Creations.

"I’ve had customers ask me if I’m bringing the pancakes, that if the pancakes aren’t coming with us, they’re not coming either," Proulx said, laughing.

Rest assured, the pancake recipe — and the oft-mentioned church pew right inside the entrance — will make the move as well.

The new site, located next door to the Woolen Mills, offers Proulx the chance to expand and own the location.

It’s a great position, said Proulx, who has considered several different sites in recent years.

"Irvine Avenue is like a thoroughfare," she said.

The new site, expected to open in June or July depending on construction progress, also has plenty of available parking.

"That was one of the biggest things," Proulx said, noting customers have told her they’ve wanted to stop in, but just couldn’t find nearby parking.

The cafe will become the newest commercial addition at the foot of the Irvine Avenue bridge, which in 2011 welcomed an expanded Harmony Foods Co-op.

"We’re just very, very excited," said Bill Batchelder, owner of the Woolen Mills. "For years and years, I’ve often thought of how nice it would be to have a cafe down here."

Once in its new home, Proulx said she hopes to transform the Minnesota Nice Cafe two evening a week, offering new recipes, Forestedge wine and beer from a Walker microbrewery.

"I’ve been looking up some new recipes, trying out some wonderful things," she said. "I’m excited about it. I think it will be fun."

Proulx, a longtime cook and caterer at Countryside Restaurant, opened the cafe after a mix-up resulted in her losing a potential job. At 62, she wasn’t quite ready to retire, so a friend asked her to write out what she would do if she opened her own cafe.

"In a half-hour, I had five pages," she recalled.

After getting assistance through the small business center, she approached a bank, three or four times, until she finally sold the idea.

"I said, ‘There’s no place to get breakfast in downtown,’" she said. "He told me that’s what sold it."

The business has since done very well over the years, which Proulx credits to her menu, staff and friendly, small-town atmosphere.

But also devoutly spiritual, Proulx believes she has been especially blessed from above.

"We have good food and we have a great staff, but we have a very strong advocate," she said.

In 2012, Russ Parsons, food editor for the Los Angeles Times, wrote about the cafe after he asked — and was politely refused — for the cafe’s pancake recipe, after sampling its wild rice and blueberry pancakes while traveling through northern Minnesota.

Parsons’ subsequent column, in which he tried to recreate the recipe himself, was reprinted throughout the country.

One retired California couple came to the cafe and told Proulx they drove 1,500 miles just to try the pancakes.

"The man said he would make that trip again, just for the pancakes," she said.

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