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Taste of Northern Minnesota: A taste of everything

From left, Kristi Anderson, general manager of Hunger Bear Banquet & Convention Center serves Keri Rohde and Myra Burnette some specialty foods at the Taste of Northern Minnesota on Thursday night. The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event with 27 vendors at the George W. Neilson Convention Center. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – The vendors participating in Thursday’s Taste of Northern Minnesota event shared a common geography, but little else.

From local chains (Erbert and Gerbert’s, Perkins) to family-owned (Ranch House Supper Club), from mainstays (Lueken’s Village Foods) to newcomers (Bemidji Brewing), the 20th annual gathering of local tastemakers offered a range of options.

To any new Bemidji residents who may have walked into the George W. Neilson Convention Center Thursday, the two dozen or so booths would have provided a good idea of what to expect when hitting the town for some grub.

In fact, that’s exactly what drew Francois and Melinda Neville, who settled here in August.

“We’re discovering the new eating places around here that we wouldn’t otherwise have known about,” Francois Neville said.

For newer businesses, it was an opportunity to get their name out there, and their food on people’s plates.

DaRoo’s Pizza of Bemidji made its first appearance at the event this year after moving into town in August. Co-owner Cyndi O’Bryan said she and her husband had owned the Bagley location for 12 years before selling it to her cousin.

“This is just a fun event,” she said.

Bemidji Brewing Co., a team of three friends that recently began selling its beer at Brigid’s Irish Pub, was also on hand for its inaugural Taste event.

While those businesses had to merely drive across town, some like the rural Walker-based Ranch House Supper Club made a road trip. But that didn’t mean it was an unknown establishment for Thursday’s attendees. 

“I was really surprised to hear the response from people up here, because you think you’re coming up to an area where not many people know you,” said Curt Magnuson of the supper club. To bring a taste of their business’s atmosphere, he fashioned a small wagon cover to go over their table, similar to the booths at the restaurant.

Just down the row from where Classic Hard Times Saloon was displaying its monstrosity of a burger (finish it in 30 minutes and it’s free), Bemidji Breeze was handing out a, well, lighter offering of green teas and soy nuts.

“They get to know that we actually exist,” Debbie Madsen, owner of Bemidji Breeze said of potential customers. “And kind of get to sample something healthy.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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