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Best of People and Media
Deaf actor nationally known for his role in the film CODA, which has been nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture. Daniel was born in Detroit to addicted parents who left him on a stoop and he was raised in Duluth by his aunt. He attended mainstream schools in Duluth, where a grade school teacher, Raysa Carlson, cast him in the lead in a play. He moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to join Deaf West Theatre and played the co-lead role in the critically acclaimed 2014 production of Spring Awakening, which opened on Broadway in 2016, leading him to receive numerous recognitions and awards. In 2019 he became involved in movies and television, filming CODA, Silent Notes and You (Netflix). Decider.com’s review of CODA refers to Durant as “a total hottie.”
Durant writes, “Thank you to Duluth area subscribers of The Reader for your love and support. It’s an honor to be voted best actor and it means a lot coming from my home town of Duluth and surrounding communities. Thanks for all of your support and for watching CODA!”
Horvath was director of the Duluth Playhouse Education Program and Children’s Theatre from 2007 to 2017. She hasn’t done any acting for the past four years, but people still remember her legacy.
The Superior native earned her BFA in theater from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2001. She spent five years working as an actor and singer in New York City. While in New York, Kate studied voice with Liz Caplan Vocal Studios and other professionals who fueled her desire to learn more about her craft. Some of her favorite roles include Little Red in Into the Woods (UMD & The Duluth Playhouse), Nina in The Seagull (Another Theatre Company, NYC), Julia in The Rivals (The Pearl Theatre Company, NYC), Horatio in Hamlet (The Zipper, NYC) and Mimi in RENT (The Duluth Playhouse).
Best Community Activist
Dr. Arne Vainio
Dr. Vainio is a family practice physician on the Fond Du Lac Reservation. Not only only does he treat his patients’ health, he talks to them about their life plans and what opportunities are open to them, and uses the opportunity to educate them.
“If a 4-year-old comes in with an ear infection, I show them an ear anatomy chart and explain what’s happening. I show them they’re respected and hold them to a higher standard.”
He sees health care as a path to a better society. “If you look worldwide at the things medicine has done, it’s brought basic stuff like clean water and education, things that should be available to everyone.”
He was born to a Finnish father and an Ojibwe mother, one of seven children. When he was four years old, his father committed suicide and poverty followed. From his teens through his 20s he worked as an auto body shop worker, lumberjack, sawmill worker, farmhand, bartender and heavy equipment operator. In the ‘80s he worked as a professional firefighter and paramedic, which made him realize he could become a doctor.
In the ‘90s he attended medical school at UMD and he became a doctor at age 30. After a family practice residency in Seattle, he went to Fond Du Lac starting in 1997. His audio essays on life, work, medicine and spirit have been on the air on on The North (formerly KUMD) since 2018. He also does the Health Matters segment of Native Report on PBS affiliate WDSE/WRPT.
He credits less than a double-handful of people for changing his course. “We are all that person for someone who might be lost,” he said.
Best Local Elected Official
Councilor Elm has served the citizens of Superior for more than four years, and is currently the council president. Born and raised in the area, Tylor has always been heavily involved in the community by helping others all while growing his computer business, discoverpc.NET. He serves in a variety of organizations such as the Superior Rotary Club, the Development Association and the Superior Spooktacular. He currently co-chairs the city’s Finance Committee, and helped originate – and currently chair – the city’s Communication and Information Technology Committee. He believes in responsive government and that we should always be looking for ways to improve.
Chad Lawrence Hamm
Hamm plays country music with the band Buckwild and is also a solo and duo performer (the latter as Chad & Matt.) Originally from upper Michigan, he graduated from UWS in 2008. He’d always been a fan of rock and country music and hoped to play guitar, but those hopes were seemingly dashed at age 21 when he broke his finger playing football on the beach during spring break. “I was devastated,” he said. He was unable to bend the first knuckle on his index finger. But he pushed himself to play just to prove he could. He practiced for nearly a decade before hitting the stage. “I didn’t sing in front of anyone except my wife and daughter until age 30. Didn’t have the courage,” he said.
Buckwild formed as a band eight years ago to play country covers. He took over vocal duties as well as guitar. He counts 100 shows he’s played in the past year at local venues such as Powerhouse, Beacon and Jack’s Place. Buckwild is also a house band for Cirrus, playing at private events for the company around the country. He got to jam with Dierks Bentley on the bus after the latter played at Amsoil Arena.
He figures he plays around 40 songs a night. “I bust my butt to put on a good show,” he said.
Best Band Name
No surprise that Chad Hamm’s fans who voted for him for Best Musician also voted for the band he fronts in this category.
“Buckwild wasn’t my first choice,” Hamm said. “I fought against it, but it stuck.”
Band names are often weird and enigmatic, but “Buckwild” tells you up front what they do, and of course it’s country. The term “buck wild” refers to “the aggressive state of bucks during mating season” (Wiktionary) and “outrageous, frenzied or out-of-control behavior, often with sexual undertones.” (Urban Dictionary) So it’s anything but dull. “Love it or hate it, you remember it one way or another,” Hamm said.
One might suggest they name the band Bossheart after one of their members, Matt Bosshart, but it’s a little late now.
Charlie Parr, Last of the Better Days Ahead
The votes went to “Charlie Parr” without naming the album. This might refer to his self-titled 2019 album, but that doesn’t count as something released in the past year. Maybe people have lost track of the titles as he’s released 16 albums since 2002, and that doesn’t include compilations, collaborations or vinyl.
His latest, released in late 2021, has his usual formula of solo fancy fingerpicking, bluesy folk ranging from brisk to contemplative and lyrics that are often melancholy yet epic in exploration. But it’s a living, breathing formula, one that’s constantly evolving and being fine-tuned.
The title song is about misplaced nostalgia, the longing for material things such as “that ‘64 Falcon that you sold in your 20s and then regretted it was gone because you thought it contained some meaning or some answers to a life that you never bothered to question or even take a good close look at.” Characters such as Tony, a homeless drifter, populate the landscape: “All the stray dogs love Tony because he knows exactly how it feels.” He refers to memories of his father in “Blues for Whitefish Lake, 1975,” trying to “concentrate on the last shirt I saw him wear.” There’s even a 15-minute instrumental called “Decoration Day” (the archaic name for Memorial Day) which flows like a meandering river, sometimes so low-key as to be ambient, other times building in intensity only to spill out into tranquil eddies.
Charlie Parr at Earth Rider
We’re not sure which show this refers to because he plays at Cedar Lounge/Earth Rider Brewery quite often. Maybe it’s the “Midweek Bracer & Blues Meetings” he played in March, or the “Sunday Blues and Ice Cream Social” shows he played in June. We’ll go with the ice cream shows because everything goes better with ice cream. In any case, Parr is one of the few solo performers out there who can get a whole room dancing.
Best Free Event
People in Superior take Halloween really seriously, as proven by this week-long series of events Oct. 23-31. These included a haunted house named (with questionable taste, but what the heck, it’s Halloween) “The Massacre on Hammond,” a music festival, drive-in movies, a 5k run, a pub crawl, the area’s only Halloween-themed parade and, of course, lots of nightlife.
Best Open Mic
Wussow’s Concert Café
If you’ve ever seen one of those old Showtime at the Apollo episodes where someone who can’t sing gets booed and the man with the cane comes along, that is NOT what will happen during Open Mic sessions at Wussow’s Concert Café. In fact, Brunch Cook Jake Kennedy says they do their best to “provide a really welcoming, accepting, open environment for amateur and professionals alike.” Jake mentions how they get many people on the more amateur side and many professionals who play around Duluth all the time and like to stop in and play a little.
Best Live Music Club
Owner Jason Wussow was prepared last spring to get over the pandemic and get back to presenting live music on a regular basis, and he did so with a vengeance, putting on many great shows and earning the respect of local music fans for the diversity of music presented.
Best Local Play
Oh, it’s a hard-knock life for Little Orphan Annie in this Tony Award-winning musical. The Duluth Playhouse produced this version at the Norshor Theatre in November-December. Because the unusually high number of shows scheduled would be too much of strain on the children in the cast, the playhouse doubled the number of kids to play on alternate nights. So Annie was played by Cadence Graber and Sofia Salmela, with Miss Hannigan played by Christina Stroup. It was the last production before Playhouse had to shut down again due to Covid.
Best Book (Published in the last year)
Tie: The Eternal After Life Anthology by Richard Scott
Gichigami Hearts by Linda LeGarde Grover
“After Life” is a comic strip that appeared in the Reader for many, many years (though not as long as Scott’s still-running “Lucifer for Congress”). It chronicles the adventures of freshly dead Steven Harris, who wasn’t bad enough to go to Hell, nor good enough to go to Heaven, so he’s granted freedom to tour both places as well as Limbo. Along the way he meets God, various devils, angels and aliens, and his parents, and he gets to play Death’s sidekick. (“Death does not have a sidekick!” protests the Grim Reaper.) This complete collection is available from barnesandnoble.com.
Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian Studies at UMD, a novelist and former Reader columnist. “Gichigami Hearts” is her fifth book, a collection of stories, legends, poetry, and memoir set in Duluth and spanning history over hundreds of years, from a Native American perspective. The Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it an “artful weaving of family, history, myth and magic.”
Best Local Artist
Chances are you’ve seen his work somewhere, whether it’s the giant owl at West 20th and Superior St., the wild rice mural nearby, the phoenix on the Lifehouse building downtown, the golden woods painting at Spirit Mountain, the fish at the estuarium on Barker’s Island, the chickadee on the side of the Grand Rapids Library or the loon on West Lake Street in Chisholm. People still talk about his ephemeral chalk drawing of an elephant on the rock in Lincoln Park, which lasted only three days in 2016 before being washed out by rain.
He grew up north of St. Paul, majored in art at UMD and got a teaching license. He spent time off and on over a decade helping out with research in Antarctica for the National Science Foundation. He’s worked as a waiter, a bartender, a carpenter and a conservation technician, all of which informed his art, which is now his full-time job.
As a member of the Twin Ports Art Science Collaborative, his latest work has been influenced by climate research. “Now, more than ever, the implications of human actions in an ever-changing landscape are on the tip of everyone’s tongue,” he writes. “My recent paintings make scientific data such as this clearer and, most importantly, inspire audiences to learn what can be done to change course.”
Best Radio Personality
Allen can be heard mornings on KOOL 101.7, middays on B105, weekends on Sasquatch 106.5, and sportcasting on Northland Fan. Born and raised in Duluth, he started in radio in 1995. “I always wanted to do radio and my dad talked me out of it,” he said. Instead he worked for the music business in Nashville. A friend who worked at KAT Country in Duluth, needing help, called him and said, “I know you can work a soundboard.” Later he moved to B105 and other stations owned by Townsquare Media.
He has been engineering, coaching and producing music for area artists. He executive-produced the 2017 independent film Paranormal Highway and wrote the theme song played over the end credits, performed by local musicians Breanne Marie and Andy Hauswirth.
As a paranormal enthusiast and ghost-hunter, he once spent the night alone in the shuttered nursing home Nopeming, though at the time he didn’t realize it. In the middle of the night he was kicked by the ghost hunter sleeping next to him and found out the next day the other guy had slept in his car.
He does commercial voice-overs ads and videos including for the Coast Guard. Once he was called into KDAL radio when an interview subject, a fashion designer, didn’t show up, so he played the role.
“It’s a lot like singing, where you sing out of different parts of your body, you talk out of your head or chest,” he said. “You have to figure out the timbre of the person you’re doing.”
Technology has enabled much radio work to be accomplished at home, which came in handy when his ankle was run over by a trailer hauling a Zamboni at a Christmas City of the North Parade. Shortly after he recovered and returned to work, though, he had to head back home to work because of the pandemic.
Best Newspaper Columnist
Raymond’s column “The Gadfly” has appeared in The Reader for more than two decades, though he’s not from the Twin Ports, he’s from Detroit Lakes. His column originally appeared in the High Plains Reader out of Fargo, and we picked it up from there, though the two publications have no connection other than using the name “Reader." The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “gadfly” as “a person who stimulates or annoys other people, especially by persistent criticism.” We do get a lot of complaints about his liberal opinions (Republicans “have no incentive to govern. It’s too much like work. They only want to RULE.”) but he’s more of an old-school common-sense liberal. (“Increase minimum wage; Negotiation rights for Medicare; Control of drug prices; Housing the homeless; Renewable energy projects; Quality child care; Paid family leave; Increase tax rates on rich … ”) in fact he’s a former Marine and school superintendent. How he produces two full pages of copy week after week without fail is nothing less than a miracle, though our own John Gilbert, who produces four, might not be as impressed.
Nick Eastman & K9 Marik
Marik joined the Superior Police Department in 2014 and works with Sergeant Nick Eastman. A black, short-haired German Shepherd, Marik was bred in Slovakia. He is trained as a dual purpose K-9, meaning he can sniff out people as well as narcotics and other evidence. Gentle and friendly away from work, he shows intensity at work that is only fitting, considering his name translates as “of Mars the god of war, warlike.”
Person of the Year
Kasper, who for decades has been the city’s go-to guy for planting and landscaping, runs Open Hands Food Project, which grows organic food and donates it to area food shelves.
Kasper is the former buildings and grounds supervisor for the city of Duluth and managed famous outdoor spaces such as the Rose Garden, Enger Park and Civic Center gardens. For many years he was a media personality on the PBS show “Great Gardening” and KUMD-FM’s “Tips for Hardy Gardens with Tom Kasper.” He owns Bending Birches Greenhouse, from which Open Hands grew.
Three years ago he was volunteering for the Damiano Center and decided to donate 100 pounds of tomatoes. This led to the idea of creating the garden, which grew to two acres, tended every week in growing season by as many as 20 volunteers. Last year they donated 8,200 pounds of fresh vegetables (30 different varieties, including six types of tomatoes and five kinds of potatoes) to the Damiano, CHUM, Two Harbors Food Shelf, Ruth House and Solid Rock. This year he’s shooting for 10,000 pounds.
“In gardening there’s always a new challenge, a new celebration,” he said.
Best Story Swept Under the Rug
Pete Stauber’s support to try changing the election results in favor of Trump
This is not a story swept under the rug so much as one that Eighth District Rep. Stauber hasn’t gotten enough flack about. The basic info is out there: Pete was one of over 126 House Republicans who, in December 2020, supported a lawsuit to get the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate Biden’s election. Stauber was so anxious to jump on this bandwagon that when his name was left off the initial list of signatories, he tweeted that it was due to clerical error. After the case got laughed out of the Supreme Court, even by the judges Trump appointed, Stauber said he would accept the election results. He said the lawsuit was “in no way an attempt to overturn the results of the election” though that’s exactly what it was. He claims he was upholding election integrity but he was really playing a weaselly game that fed into the reckless mythology that the election was stolen, which led to the Jan. 6 riot.When the Duluth News Tribune asked if he shared any blame for the officer who died the day after the riot, Stauber said, “I’m really appalled you would ask that question.” We’re kind of appalled he would dodge the question rather than face up to it.
Best Local Website
Perfect Duluth Day
PDD was launched in 2003 by Scott (Starfire) Lunt and Barrett Chase, and became the go-to place for locals to converse, snark and fight online until Facebook stole that activity. Today it’s a blog with history, culture and a comprehensive calendar. Content is created by community members and paid journalists.
Fox 21 news anchor Dan Hanger moved to the Northland from his hometown in Chicago in 2006 and took on his first reporting job at KBJR after graduating from Columbia College Chicago with a major in broadcast journalism. He joined Fox as a reporter in October 2010 and was promoted to anchor in August 2011.. “I am so interested in people! Always full of questions, Love to find the truth in every story. Love telling stories that nobody wants to talk about. Plus, it’s different every day. I would go nuts sitting in some cubical!” replied Hanger in an email about what made him interested in being a reporter.
Best TV News Station
It’s been a long time since Dennis Anderson’s mustache graced the airwaves at WDIO. We knew that the anchors, meteorologists, reporters and camera operators have always done a great job at WDIO, but we always figured there needed to be a mustache on board to give it that last special bump. The people are at WDIO are really that good, not one of them has a mustache and things are being held down great at the station.
Making It Up North, WDSE
In a time where all Americans are trying to “make it” in many different ways, you might want to learn about some business people who are “making it” within what is probably a short drive or bus ride from your home. After watching some Making it Up North videos, you might feel more of a connection to many of the places and people you pass by on these cold roads of the north. If you don’t watch TV anymore, don’t worry. Just type Making it Up North into YouTube to find their channel complete with what appears to be all of the show’s content. They feature just about every kind of small business you can think of. The stories are true and the challenges are real.
Best TV Personality
Darren Danielson, WDIO
Danielson began his journalism career in 1981 as a general assignment reporter in Minot, North Dakota at KMOT-TV. There he had the chance to take on every task in the newsroom and eventually became the anchor, producer and news director.
For 14 years he was the co-anchor of the weekly public affairs program, Almanac North, on Duluth’s Public Broadcasting station, WDSE-TV. For five years, he anchored and produced the 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts at Duluth’s CBS affiliate. He also worked for 20 years as an investment advisor for Duluth financial planning, business consulting, and investment firms. He joined WDIO came after long-time anchor Dennis Anderson announced he was going to retire.
Best Dance Club
The Flame, Superior
Twenty below on a Friday night, you could stay in with the cat watching X- Files on Hulu or you could go out for a night on the town and get your dance on.Many of you felt that The Flame is a great place to show your slick dance moves and you’re right. The Flame is probably the best place to shake it in the Northland. We talked with part owner, Alvin Berg, who started up The Flame in Superior back in 2010 and more recently, The Flame in Duluth, which he sold.It is also a dance room featuring a mix of electronic music DJs. “We have any kind of music from top 40 to electronic,” said Berg. With the diversity of styles of music, a large dance area with good lighting, a full bar, a fun atmosphere for gay and straight people to hang out in, The Flame is a great way to spend an evening with friends, or fly solo.
Best of Food and Drink
Best Outdoor Dining: Sir Benedict's
Best American Restaurant
The Duluth Grill Has become sort-of the unofficial welcome center when entering the heart of Duluth. It is right off the highway and near the major fuel stop locations for people coming into town and/or heading up the North shore. A hotel is also right there. It is also a favorite Duluth hang out for locals.
Besides the convenient location, years of great food and service have made the Duluth Grill into the icon of the Northland that it is. As the category indicates, they have great American food. It is the kind of place tourists come to early in the morning and get some Northland tips from the local regulars.
Best Outside Restaurant
Sir Ben’s is a great place for outdoor dining because of the view and the variability. The view is simple enough to understand. Right across the street is the grassy-strip beginning of Leif Erickson park. In the summer the grass is green with the blue lake beyond. Just to the right of this grass strip are the nice brick tourist shops on the path to the Fitger’s complex. You can watch people walking, biking or riding electric scooters.
“The variability” refers to how you can find a table that conforms best to your desired level of exposure to nature. The outside seating area at Sir Ben’s is kind of like a horseshoe shape with a building in the center. This shape makes it, depending on the time a day, possible to choose to sit more in the sun or the shade. Like a boat on Lake Superior, you can also choose to be more in the wind or (in sailor speak) the lee of the building.
Best Asian Restaurant
This year’s Best Asian Restaurant is Hanabi Japanese Cuisine. Their menu varies “from Japanese fusion, to sushi and other traditional dishes.”
Interestingly a recent study based on Google searches found Japanese food is the 6th most popular type of ethnic food in America after Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Thai, and Indian. But at least this year and in this town, a Japanese place beat the Chinese, Thai, and Indian restaurants. The glowing reviews on their website show why this place is very popular.
Best Local Brewery
Bent Paddle Brewing is a 30-barrel production craft brewery and taproom located in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood. Using soft Lake Superior water, the Bent Paddle brews the freshest and most dependable craft beer possible. The goal at Bent Paddle Brewing is to produce beers that “Bend the Tradition” of classic styles, striving to make drinkable, balanced beers with an edge of inventiveness for all beer lovers to enjoy.
In a world that changes like stormy seas, Johnson’s Bakery is like an old dependable and familiar lighthouse. It’s sweet smells act as a beacon bringing you to a familiar place with many memories. It has been a place of enjoyable food and community for more than 70 years.
The Lincoln Park building was built in 1916 and Bill and Lillian Johnson started the bakery in 1946. Johnson’s is the last bakery left of an active community of local startup bakeries from that time period. Many of the recipes used have been around a long time. Besides the food, this long history of making community connections brings comfort in these changing times.
Best Bar & Grill
So what’s the deal with this place? The first time I walked into the Anchor, I was transported immediately to coastal Maine. I was half expecting a longshoreman from a previous century to sidle-up next to me saying “Move over, Barnacle Butt, I need me brew and bacon burger, Arrrrr!”
But seriously folks, the Anchor’s burgers and fries are as authentic as they get. If you look around the bar, you can see a whole potato practically being drawn and quartered (mild exaggeration) before your very eyes and turned into the freshest French fries you’ll ever eat (no exaggeration). No frills, but delish! Adam Anderson credits his late father with the Anchor’s success. “My dad started the establishment in 1977,” he said, “and we’re just trying to keep it going. It’s been successful, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! We put out a fresh product at a reasonable price.” The Anchor keeps winning this category because they aren’t just any old bar and grill. They’re special in the hearts of Northlanders.
Janie Schulties at Eddie’s
Long-time Superiorite Janie Schultes knows how to keep the customer happy at Eddie’s in Superior. She has been at Eddie’s for four months and helps draw trafffic with her kind and caring bartender skills.
Best Beer Selection
7 West Taphouse
While brewpubs and production breweries are great places to witness beer making and then enjoy brews from that particular company, 7 West Taphouse is the place to try a variety of beers from lots of places. They don’t brew their own beer, but they have a lot of beer flowing out of a whole lot of taps.
“We get exclusive beer right away from certain breweries and we have 50 different taps,” said Katie Hansen, manager at the Tower Avenue location. “We’ve got every type of beer on. We have porters, sours, hazy IPA, regular IPAs and chocolate stouts. We have a lot of selection.”
They are also known for quick service.
“It takes like 5 minutes to get your food if we aren’t crazy busy. The food and the service and everything is real quick,” said Katie. “We are a fun establishment and you can try lots of drinks that we don’t get around here very often.”
Best Bloody Mary
The Breeze Inn
For good reason, in the Twin-Ports we make a big deal about Lake Superior. Establishments like to mention how close they are to the lake and if there is a view.
But the Northland also has an inland empire of trees, otherwise known as the
edge of town past most highly-populated areas as kind of a gateway to the vast woods to the north. Here you are still close to town but can stare into the dark woods and the stars as you step outside on summer night. The Breeze Inn is also far enough from town to have bonfires on good nights.
If the great environment doesn’t get you up there, then come for the Bloody Marys. The Breeze is known in the area for their Bloody Marys and this year have won in the category for this drink.
“Kate’s Bloody Mary has been nominated several times for the best bloody,” said co-owner Kate Waggoner.” I have been making this recipe for many years. At the Breeze, we keep it simple with just a pickle and olive.”
Best Burger Joint
Anchor Bar and Grill
The long time champion of the Northland’s best burgers reigns supreme for another year. Yes, the Anchor has once again been awarded by readers as the best burger joint. It is also worth noting that the Anchor won more votes in this category than any other business in any other category. They must be doing something right.
Best Fish Fry
Eddie’s World Famous Ribs
A place with “ribs” in the title seems an odd winner in the Fish Fry category. But the fish fry at Eddie’s is so good that it’s included in Jeff Hagen’s book, Fry Me To The Moon. a guide to Friday night fish fries across Wisconsin. Eddie’s fish fries are actually available on Thursday and Friday.
Best Grocery Store
Mt. Royal Fine Foods
The customers at Mt. Royal mostly come from two different “worlds” as General Manager Steve Schadewald puts it. Since the store is right by UMD, students form part of that world. The other “world” consists of long-term customers living near the store. Mt. Royal gets a lot of support from both groups of people.
“It is a mixture of customers that have helped us maintain what we have been doing for many years, “ said Steve. “I think the reason is we try to take care of them with service and we try to offer a wide-range of quality products.”
Best Happy Hour
Located in Old City Hall (and jail) on Hammond Avenue in Superior; owner Jeff Heller had an idea for a place for people to meet after work and share food and conversation. The result is the handcrafted, custom-built bar and woodwork, repurposed marble and iron work, creating a superior elegance in an intimate space. Happy hours are 4-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursday, with live music Wednesdays.
Best Liquor Store
Keyport really is a great liquor store for a couple of reasons. One is the very wide variety of wine. Two is the excellent craft beer selection. Third is the very friendly employees, and fourth, the thing that really sets them apart from everyone else is their location at the end of the Bong Bridge. We talked to Nick Casper at Keyport about their win 22 years in a row and how they keep staying on top. “Prices and selection,” said Casper. In the two years they have renovated and expanded their selection of whiskey and beer making them an even more formidable competitor.
Best Outdoor Dining
You don’t likely think much about outdoor dining during a polar vortex, but Sir Ben’s is a great place to eat on a summer afternoon. The front features a look over the lake and is wide-open to the noon-day sun. If the sun is too strong, the umbrellas have you covered. You can look over Superior Street and see the lake, between the trees. These trees are the beginning of Leif Erickson Park, which tourists enter holding cones from the nearby ice cream stand.
The side and back of Sir Ben’s are quieter and shielded from the busy-but-not-too-busy Superior Street. The back is great for summer nighttime sitting. This is a nice place to hang back a little from the street crowd in the dim-lighting. But, you aren’t that far back. You and your friends can still pick out faces from either Superior or the side street and say “isn’t that so and so”. The low-walled partially enclosed back patio partially traps the sound of local music from inside, while still allowing easy conversation. You can hear the band better when you go to get another beer. Speaking of which, Sir Ben’s has a great selection of craft and import beers.
Best Business Lunch
When you sit at Pickwick for your business lunch you are surrounded by rich wood carvings, trophy horns, and old paintings showing the European country side from a couple hundred years ago. Sitting there as a modern business person, you might imagine yourself as some medieval merchant trying to secure a trade pact with a powerful noble. This oldest restaurant in Duluth’s, stands like a castle above the lake, with the bright outside contrasting with all the darkly stained wood inside.
After you eat, you can leave the castle with your business partners and see a lot of what makes Duluth great at one compact location. You can walk down to the Lakewalk or look out at it from above. You can then go into the Fitgers complex and check out the many unique shops that demonstrate why Duluth is a great place.
Best Place for a Romantic Dinner
Va Bene is Italian for good and readers have agreed that Va Bene in Duluth is a good place for a romantic dinner. If you want to impress a love-interest in your life with a beautiful view, delicious food and a cafe atmosphere that transports you to Italy, this is the place. This is the place to take someone when you really want to tell them how much you love them. This the place to gaze out on to the lake, sip wine, and dream about your future together. This is the place ... to fall in love.
Whether you are a local getting some food before work or a traveler taking a quick stop on your way to the Boundary Waters, the Duluth Grill is a great place to eat breakfast. They have a large selection of items from the more simple to the more exotic. Being proud of supporting local food, their menu mentions where key ingredients (such as “Bay Produce tomatoes”) come from. The Duluth Grill has perfected their breakfast menu over many years. “We’ve been around doing this for almost 20 years now,” said manager Dan Lefavare. “We’ve really put an emphasis on providing the best ingredients for our guests. We love breakfast and we try to showcase that the best that we can.”
Best Coffee Shop
Duluth Coffee Co.
Visiting the Duluth Coffee Company’s downtown café is sort of like visiting ancient Rome. It is a great place in its own right but is also the headquarters of an empire, an empire of beans. Here at the headquarters you can see where the product is roasted for you in the café but is also shipped to many locations in Minnesota and parts of four other states. The café also offers a great atmosphere while the brew keeps you alert for talking, reading, or doing work.
Like the Romans, Duluth Coffee Company is always looking to add to their empire. Just like Rome founded cities to replicate Rome in the wilderness, they encourage others to start new coffee shops. They help these entrepreneurs by installing machines and offering training. These new shops sell more of their coffee and the empire grows.
The winner is Spirit Room (in Superior) with an enticing, if occasionally baffling, variety of martinis including Cherry Cheesecake, Horseradish Black Pepper Gibson, Rosemary’s Salts, Banana Chocolatini and Christopher Walken-tini.
Best Mexican Restaurant
Pedro’s Grill & Cantina, Cloquet
For the first time, Pedro’s Grill and Cantina has won our award for Best Mexican Restaurant in the area. Those in Duluth will find it is worth the drive to Cloquet to enjoy authentic Mexican food at this family-run restaurant. Pedro’s is located in downtown Cloquet which is a thriving old style American downtown. After eating you can even walk from Pedro’s free parking lot to surrounding shops or Veterans’ Park across the street. You can enjoy walking around downtown Cloquet which has a little different feel than Duluth and Superior. Back at the restaurant you can enjoy the food, free WIFI, patio, and fireplace.
Best Pizza Place
Shamrock in Superior
Located in the South End of Superior, Shamrock Bar and Pizza is known for some of the most delicious pizza in the area. During this February, their pizza of the month is the “Cheesy Pig.” This pizza has BBQ sauce, pulled pork, bacon, and three different kinds of cheese.For January, they featured an intriguing Pizza called the Big SCHMAC. Among other things, it has beef and cheddar cheese and is topped with lettuce, onions, and thousand islands. The restaurant also serves things besides pizza. For example, recently they won third place in a Superior soup contest for their chili.
Best Place for Gourmet Dinner
Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar
Just looking through their menu, you will see some very exotic sounding dishes. Some of these are pheasant pate, bone marrow, rabbit enchiladas, grilled octopus, and wild boar bolognese. You can see right away this is the place for someone to try fancy dishes featuring meat they may or may not have eaten before.
But if you look deeper you will see there is plenty for adventurous vegetarians as well like the Jerked Spaghetti Squash.
If you look further on the menu you will also notice that many of the meals are fairly reasonably priced which you may not have expected from a place that sells something as exotic as grilled octopus.
Best Really, Really Cheap Food
The Anchor Bar in Superior wins this category every year because most of the burgers are in the $4 to $5 range. Plus they’re really, really, delicious. With unique offerings such as the cashew burger, the Hawaiian and the fresh (slaughtered before your eyes) potato fries, it’s no real wonder that the Anchor just keeps winning. Can you believe it? The same place whose burgers have been voted Best in the Northland (Read “Best Burger”) also has the best prices.
Eddie’s World Famous Ribs
It is in the name folks and our readership has agreed that the best place to go for ribs is Eddie’s, a 50’s style restaurant in Superior’s east-end. “We have tried hard to stay consistent over the 23 years we have been here to keep the fall off the bone texture everyone loves,” said Dina Connor. Eddie’s was originally founded in the 60’s and has maintained the theme from the era since and this has prevailed through their ribs. Their award-winning ribs and excellent customer service are what have created loyal customers. Conner is proud to have won this award for 8 years in a row. Eddie’s can accommodate parties up-to-twenty and cater events for two hundred! On Thursdays and Fridays you can enjoy an All You Can Eat Fish Fries for under $10. Seriously.
Sir Ben’s is a great place to eat a sandwich. This greatest comes because of the place and of course the sandwiches. On their menu they have about 15 sandwiches as well as “build your own.” When getting the build your sandwiches you get a choice of 8 types of bread, 5 different cheeses, 3 vegetables out of a selection of 11, and about 13 condiments.
As for the place, Sir Ben’s is great inside and out. As mentioned elsewhere in this issue, Sir Ben’s is currently the reigning King of Outdoor Dining in Duluth. The inside is also great because of the music, games, and inviting spaces. There are areas for big groups and intimate little sections for talking and playing board games.
Best Serving Staff
OMC is owned by Jaima and Tom Hanson, who also own the Duluth Grill. The main difference between the two restaurants is OMC has a lot more meat and also serves alcohol. Duluth Grill is known for having great owners and great staff. So, it is no surprise that their latest restaurant also has a great staff. A great staff is formed when they have great bosses who look out for them. Led by Jaima and their son Louie, OMC is heavily involved in the sustainability and local food movement. They work hard to support local farms and ranches.
Hammond Steak House
Hammond Steak House has won this year’s category for “Best Steak.” They have been serving steak and liquor in their bar section for a long time. Bartender Nick Strand mentions how this is an old-style establishment similar to the old supper clubs in the area.
“Probably like there is nothing left like it since the supper clubs have gone away,” said Nick “Not too many of them are left in the area. It is a good establishment that has been here a long time and has good quality items.”
From Duluth, drive over the Blatnik Bridge and as soon as you are driving on Wisconsin land look to the right for the big blue building with a big blue smoke stack. Just looking at the style of the signs on the building, you can tell this place is from an earlier time.
Best Vegetarian Friendly Restaurant
At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe
Most of us are more happy and comfortable being places where people genuinely want us to be happy and comfortable. Our voters have indicated At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Café is very friendly to vegetarians. Part of the reason is this restaurant has many resident vegetarian friends.
“So, we definitely cater to our vegetarians,” said barista and bartender Amanda Peterson. “About half our kitchen staff is vegetarian. So, who better to come up with these items?”
When your friends visit it is nice to make them feel welcome. The staff at the café use their minds and talents to provide a great experience for people of all needs.
“We are very creative and we cater to people who are vegan, celiac, have allergies and have special dietary needs,” said Amanda.
They cater to their guests with a large vegetarian and vegan menu, a vegan bakery, and a wide assortment of vegan desserts. They also make sure there is no cross-contamination from meat in the kitchen.
“We have special areas. We have special grills,” said Amanda. “We have special utensils. We have people who come in with special testers to see if there is anything that shouldn’t be in their food.”
Best Dining Worth the Drive
Dreamland Supper Club
Dreamland opened its doors in 1927 at 4368 S. County Rd. E. in South Range, Wis. Dan and Theresa Patterson have owned the business for 22 years. Dreamland boasts a variety of cuisine ranging from a 16+oz Australian lobster tail to a 20-plus ounce Prime Rib Au Jus.
The Rustic Inn
Last year the Rustic Inn won in our category for "Best Dining Worth the Drive." This year they won in the category of "Best Desserts." The dessert part has a lot to do with how the Rustic Inn kept going strong during the last couple of years. Desserts are closely related to the bakery which became even more important during COVID. In last year's Best of the Northland, owner Beth Sullivan explained there was a time in 2020 when restaurants had to close but bakery's could stay open. Naturally increased bakery sales helped make up lost revenue from the restaurant part of their establishment.
The Rustic Inn
Best of the Material World
Best Used Record Store: Collector's Connection (Photo by Roger LePage)
Best Architectural Treasure
Aerial Lift Bridge
Constructed in 1905, three years before the Model T. Between 1905 and 1925, when a lifting road was added, people rode a gondola across the canal. It has stood with this city through its many changes and has drawn countless visitors to our port city.
Best Antique Store
Here’s a typical question messaged by Facebook to Father Time Antiques in Canal Park: “Have any Star Wars stuff?” The answer, of course, was, you bet. C’mon down! You can explore more than 10,000 square feet of antiques from more than 50 vendors in one location as you look for the perfect sign, piece of clothing, furniture or whatever you have been hunting for.
Best Art Gallery
With a permanent collection of more than 10,000 objects representing a wide range of cultures and periods of art history, the Tweed Museum of Art, located on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth, is a major cultural and education resource for the Upper Midwest.
Both new and “gently used” books can be found at this West End gem, which has declared throughout the pandemic that books are essential. It’s no surprise that Zenith also won the Best Used category below. “I would like to say how grateful we are,” said owner Bob Dobrow. “We have a tremendously supportive community and great customers. We and our customers love reading and books and we try to foster a very inviting space community-based space.”
Best Used Bookstore
Where else are you going to find a beautiful paperback on the troubled life of Expressionist Norwegian artist Edvard Munch? I found my copy at Zenith. “We have high quality books that are affordable, interesting and we have many hidden gems,” said owner Bob Dobrow.
Best Car Dealer
When Edwin Kari and his sons started a bicycle repair shop from their home in the 1920s, they probably did not have the slightest notion that it would transform into one of the leading businesses in the Twin Ports a century later. The Kari family has transformed much over the years and have used the wealth of experience to bring the Northland a great car dealership that is truly appreciated by their many loyal customers.
Best Fashion (Men)
Mainstream Fashions for Men
They call it the “Mainstream experience” – delivering the image you want to present in clothing. This downtown Duluth store has been serving the men of the Twin Ports since the early 1990s Customer service is their point of pride, as their goal is help men find the perfect look in suits, sport coats, shirts, sweaters, jeans, outerwear and accessories.
Best Fashion (Women)
At maurices, we strive to inspire the women in Duluth, MN to look and feel your best. That’s why we offer a wide selection of women’s jeans, tops, dresses, and shoes in sizes 2-24. Come find your community and new favorite outfit at 1600 Miller Trunk Highway in Miller Hill Mall.
Best Shoe Store
Tortoise and Hare
The shoe-buying experience is not what it used to be. At Tortoise and Hare, you get a computer gait and arch analysis to help put you in the best pair of shoes for your particular needs. “We focus on a lot of attention to detail,” said owner Jim Stukel. “We aren’t very particular about what your pace is. We are going to take care of your footwear needs wherever you are whether you have sore feet, are a fast runner, or a slow walker.”
Best Tattoo Parlor
The staff at Anchors End Duluth not only have artistic chops to knock your socks off but have also been vigorously trained to maintain the highest standard of customer care. Owner/founder Joseph John came to Duluth in 2003 to start a tattoo shop supported by fellow tattooers while maintaining his vision of technically sound, artistic and clean tattoos. He also has opened shops in Hudson and River Falls, Wis., as well as Stillwater, Minn.
Best Fine Jewelry
Security. Just hearing this word conjures up feelings of sureness, seriousness, carefulness and dependability. It makes you picture the type of person you want to help you pick out these little items that are sometimes several thousands of dollars. You picture this friendly but serious person who won’t make any costly mistakes or give you bad advice.
When the original Seiler founded the company almost a hundred years ago, he did more than choose a great name for the store that would be in his family until it was sold in 2018. He started a diamond dynasty in Duluth that would be loved by generations of customers for their quality products and reliable and friendly service. They have also won in this category for many years.
Best Record Store, New
Best Record Store, Used
Collector’s Connection sells sports cards, comics, graphic novels, card supplies, role-playing games, Magic: The Gathering products, Pokémon cards, Beckett price guides, CDs, vinyl records and more. Bring in your collectables for cash or store credit!
Best Music Instrument Store
It’s the world’s largest musical instrument resale franchise in the world, so that it wins in this category again is no surprise. A lot of their instruments and equipment are used and in excellent condition. The store is filled with great-playing instruments and gear that can be “taken for a test drive,” making it a better bet than picking up something on Craigslist or from a catalog.
Best Movie Theater
The West Theatre
The West Theatre first opened on Christmas Day in 1937 as a streamlined modern variation of Art Deco, with seating for 595 people. The building closed as a theater in the mid-1950s. It housed several other businesses as well as spending some time vacant, until Bob Boone, owner of The Reader, purchased the building in late 2016 with the dream of restoring it to its Art Deco glory as a theater. The grand opening was held June 21, 2019, and since it has gained a reputation as an excellent concert and convention venue, as well as movie theater.
Best Second Hand Store
When you donate and shop with Goodwill you help fulfill the nonprofit’s mission – to provide employment services, training and jobs to people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. Through the power of work, the men and women who are employed by Goodwill have a unique opportunity to break down barriers, learn new skills and build lifelong connections – and we get to buy reusable items others have donated.
Best Public Restroom
You’ll have to take our readers’ word on this one since we gave up bowel elimination some time ago.
Best Bowling Alley
There is something for everyone at Incline Bowling. There are bowling leagues for all ages and levels, as well as a “Barely Bowler League” for those who just want to have fun. It’s also a good place to celebrate birthday parties and other special events.
Pier B Resort Hotel
Know of any other classy hotels that can claim a Harbor Cam? Pier B can (pierbresort.com/gallery/live-harbor-cam). It has become one of the most impressive hotels in town with its unique location overlooking Bayfront and Canal Park. Although the hotel is new, the silos built on the property by Huron Portland Cement Company are more than 100 years old. This is the kind of high-end modern hotel that even the locals want to stay at next time they attend a Bayfront Park event.
Best Lodging - Romantic Getaway
Bluefin Bay, the premier Lake Superior resort, offers access to the year-round playground that is the Lutsen-Tofte region, set against the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains and surrounded by the Superior National Forest. The indoors are more enjoyable with upscale accommodations that include in-suite wood fireplaces, whirlpool baths, and breathtaking views of Lake Superior. Bluefin Bay also has select rooms, studios, condos and town homes to accommodate the four-legged friends who travel with you.
Best of Services
Best Realtor: Brenda Uotinen (Photo by Roger Lepage)
“I enjoy helping each of my clients know their legal rights, and fighting for them to obtain fair compensation for their injuries,” says Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation Attorney Eric Beyer. A Duluth native and magna cum laude graduate of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Eric has been recognized by Super Lawyer as a “Rising Star” honoree six times. After more than 18 years of legal practice in personal injury law with Falsani, Balmer, Peterson, Quinn & Beyer in Duluth, Eric joined SiebenCarey’s Duluth office in 2016. In his spare time, he still plays hockey and curls on both the Two Harbors and Duluth Curling clubs.
Best Auto Repair
“If you give the customer a fair deal and take care of them after the sale, they will come back to do business with you again.”
Those words of Kari Toyota founder Henry Kari still guide the family business today. The Kari family has been serving the Northland since 1933, offering new and used vehicle sales and service that keeps loyal customers returning and voting for them year after year.
Best Local Credit Union
Members Cooperative and Superior Choice traditionally vie for the top spot, and this year it goes to members. It started out as the Cloquet Co-Op Credit Union in 1936. It’s now the tenth largest credit union in Minnesota, providing banking services to more than 52,000 members, with branches in Moose Lake, North Branch, Aitkin, Isanti, McGregor, Grand Rapids, Sandstone and Cloquet, plus three locations in Duluth.
National Bank of Commerce (NBC)
For more than 80 years, National Bank of Commerce has been serving the communities of the Twin Ports in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Our readers must notice that NBC donates to the Duluth Legacy Endowment Fund, hosts regional economic seminars and is a good community neighbor; returning NBC to first place in this year’s voting. Steve Burgess, CEO, says, “We exist to help the people, businesses and organizations within our region achieve greater things, grow within our economy and live full lives. Their recent pledge is another example of how NBC makes that possible.” NBC has several branches in Northwest Wisconsin and one at 13th Avenue East and Superior Street.
Best All Ages Hangout
Whether you are old or young, Duluth has a lot of short cold days when you don’t want to be outside longer than you have to. The next best thing being outside on a warm day is being inside a giant warm building jam-packed full of fun. Whether it is miniature golf, batting cages or hundreds of video games, the Adventure Zone has everything kids of all ages need to have a blast. “We’ve got so much great stuff here,” said assistant manager Boyer Alseth. “It just gives people lots of great things to do in the winter when it is too cold to go outside.”
Dr. Dane Laughlin
Dr. Dane Laughlin of the Lange-Laughlin Chiropractic Center in Superior takes a “whole person” approach in chiropractic care, which means looking for the underlying causes of disease, discomfort and pain, as opposed to just treating the symptoms. To that end, Dr. Laughlin is also certified in nutritional counseling because of his strong interest in how clinical nutrition applies to health and recovery from injury. He sees his mission to help patients improve their health and wellness in all areas of their lives, whether they are having problems with back or neck pain, or just want to start feeling better when they wake up in the morning.
Dr. Kathrynne Dryke
Dr. Dryke‘s passion for the creative arts and the sciences has made dentistry a natural career choice. After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in biology and a minor in German language studies from the University of La Verne, Cal., she earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Minnesota. She has received the Crawford Award for excellence in dental research and presented her research findings at dental meetings in Singapore, Las Vegas, Orlando and San Francisco.
Here is your history and science lesson for the day. Lenses are important devices that evidence suggests were known to some ancient Greeks and Romans. Because glass has a higher index of refraction than air, light entering glass from the air slows down. If the glass is curved then the light entering is bent. By carefully putting the correct curves into glass, the lens maker is able to have the light bend in just the right way before it enters our eyes.
The trusted professionals at Vision Pro Optical have been using these laws of physics to help people see better for many years. They currently have nine locations to serve the public better.
Dr. Beth Fischer, Vision Pro
Dr. Fischer is a graduate of the Pacific University of Optometry, 2001. In her spare time she enjoys scuba diving, traveling and spending time with her dogs.
Ulysses S. Grant was president when Engwall began providing flowers and floral arrangements for Duluthians way back in 1876. In addition to a large inventory of fresh flowers, you can also get tropicals, plants, high-style arrangements, silk or dried arrangements, wedding consults, funeral designs, as well as carrying an extensive gift line, gourmet and fruit baskets and candles.
Best Green Business
Whole Foods Co-op
Whole Foods CO-OP won in this year’s category for “Best Green Business.” Another way to state this is people are aware of the store’s efforts to be sustainable. This means they work to have a positive impact on the environment or to at least damage the environment as little as possible. One way they help the environment is by reducing the amount of trash they put into it.
“One example is we source our packaging to use compostables like in our deli-to-go items,” said Marketing Manager Marci Strach.
While this is an example of the Co-op trying not to give nature anything it can’t break down, they also focus on serving resources nature is able to replenish. In part, they source renewable items by working with local farmers to provide local food year-round. Also, the hillside store is currently installing solar panels to use the limitless energy of the sun.
“So we are looking to cut our footprint a little bit when we tap into that resource,” said Marci.
Unlike most businesses, catering businesses do almost all their customer interaction away from their headquarters. While Kurtz Catering serves thousands of guests at places around the Northland, they cook this food at a location that is kind of hidden. Interestingly, this business is in a building blending into a quiet neighborhood in Billings Park that you might just think is an oversized garage if you happened to drive by.
“We are in a building behind a house,” said owner Paul Kurtz. “We pay commercial property tax on the building. I rent the house out to one of my employees.”
People driving by might be surprised how much business is going on in this particular block of Ohio Avenue.
“I have 16 commercial ovens in my kitchen, nine doors of refrigerator, a walk-in cooler, and five doors of freezer space. We’ve got a lot of stuff.”
Casual onlookers might notice the vans parked next to the low-key headquarters. During a normal non-pandemic year these vans carry food to about 575 events.“We do about 125 weddings, 250 funerals and another 200 other events,” said Paul.
This business has been impacting people for many years. Paul’s father Al Kurtz founded the company in 1979. About 10 years ago Paul bought the business from him. During all these years of business, they have created many connections and have perfected serving food in the Northland.
“We provide the best service and quality food at a reasonable price,” said Paul. “We’ve been in business for 43 years now.”
Best Hair Salon
Serenity Spa & Salon
Serenity Spa & Salon in Superior serves the Twin Ports with a variety of hair, spa and beauty services along with a trendy boutique. Owners Jessica and Raya are committed to making every visit a relaxing one. It is their goal to pamper you from head to toe and bring out your individual, natural beauty. The experienced and talented staff members are among the most qualified in the industry. Whether you need a full day of rest and relaxation, a completely new hairstyle, a quick lunchtime manicure, or even a new outfit, you can find it at Serenity.
Best Veterinarian Clinic
Superior Animal Hospital
Fully equipped small-animal medical and surgical practice committed to staying at the forefront of modern veterinary medicine. Their mission is to provide clients and their pets with the opportunity to receive high quality, progressive and compassionate services.
Bri Berini is a Minnesota native who became a photographer after being inspired by the prints and photo albums of her grandfather. “Capturing candid memories and emotions just how you are, whether they’re silly or loving is my passion. It’s not always simply for a pretty photograph, photographs truly capture those feeling in a moment that nothing else can bring. Whether it be your little one’s first birthday, that little one is all grown up and graduating, or your wedding day I would love to help capture whatever memories you wish to keep close to your heart.”
Best Place of Worship
Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior
If you dig masses, this apparently is the place to go.
Licensed in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, Brenda Uotinen of Bachand Realty has been selling real estate for more than 35 years. “Finding a home for a buyer is a challenge and it is very satisfying when the challenge has been completed. Helping seller’s market their home is just as rewarding! Most of my clients and customers become friends and we continue to be in touch after the property is sold,” Brenda says. Bachand Realty has 100 years of combined real estate brokerage experience in the Northland.
Best Retirement/Assisted Living Facility
Keystone Bluffs is a beautiful facility in the beautiful wooded hills in Duluth. The modern apartments are all on one floor, making it easier for all the residents to visit one another and hang out in the public areas like near the fish tank and the fireplace.
As for the private areas, each apartment has modern amenities such as air conditioning, a full-size refrigerator, and a view of the woods or the courtyard. If a potential resident feels no apartment is complete without their little buddy, they will be happy to know Keystone Bluffs is pet-friendly.
Best Small Employer (25 or Less)
Zeitgeist is a nonprofit arts and community development organization committed to growing and sustaining a community that is inclusive, diverse and equitable; artistic and vibrant; environmentally conscious; and a place where every individual can thrive.
Best Large Employer
Tom Hanson’s businesses celebrating food and drink in the Lincoln Park neighborhood have led to a renaissance in that part of Duluth. Starting with the Duluth Grill in 2008 (Hanson had been operating it as an Embers franchise prior to that, since 2001), the business has grown to include 150 employees at the three locations.
Best Service (Non-Restaurant)
Vision Pro Optical
With locations throughout the Twin Ports and beyond, the folks at Vision Pro Optical have worked very hard to be a very convenient business, which probably explains why the business tops the list again this year. “Customer service is huge here,” said VP of Operations Gwyn Bell.
Best New Business
Jam Rock Cultural restaurant is your Northland location for “delicious Caribbean cuisine and authentic jerk chicken.” Owner Tony O’Neil was born in Miami and raised in Jamaica, where his grandparents originally had a restaurant. Tony learned to cook with them and has continued the family tradition here up north.
Tony started his current business out of his house during COVID. He now has a location at 1901 Tower Ave., Superior.
Best Day Care
Lakeside Early Learning
The former St. Michael's Lakeside Early Learning is now Lakeside Early Learning and is no longer a part of St. Michael's Church. It’s still in the same building (the former Lakeside School) with the same director and teachers. LEL serves children beginning at age 16 months and continuing until they enter kindergarten. Lakeside Early Learning has 4 preschool classes and 3 toddler classes. They provide a faith-based, developmentally appropriate program with emphasis on healthy attachment, self-regulation, social interactions, and developmental skill competencies. The curriculum has been carefully selected to include dramatic and imaginative play, creative thinking, problem solving, self-sufficiency, and life skills.
Best of Health and Fitness
Best Bike Shop: Twin Ports Cyclery (Photo by Roger LePage)
Best Health Club
Duluth has a few different health clubs, but the YMCA is more than just a health club. Our YMCA and YMCA’s around the world promote health, well being and community action. They have many classes and camps unlike your typical health club. The YMCA was founded in 1844 in London as a Christian organization that helped young men flooding into the city to have something positive to do and to form communities. Each YMCA group around the country is independent and operates like a franchise. The international organization is based in Geneva Switzerland and Y’s are found around the world.
Best Bike Shop
Twin Ports Cyclery
Imagine a world run by gears. Before electricity, gear-based machines like watches were some of the most complex machines imaginable. People of that period pictured a future with robots run by millions of barely visible gears moving in incredibly complex ways.
The bike is one of the great purely mechanical machines that uses only human power and simple parts like bearings, chains and of course gears. The Twin-Ports Cyclery sells lots of new quality bikes of various prices and for older bikes keeps all these intricate metal parts moving smoothly.
During the last couple years the store has had more difficulty getting stock than other times. This has encouraged more people to keep their bikes going by using the skilled repair people at the shop. When the more complex parts of society break down, it is useful to be able to work on machines that use no fossil fuels and are made up of parts like bearings, chains and gears.
Best Ski Shop
Ski Hut East
The Ski Hut has been serving the people of Duluth for more than 60 years. The Ski Hut’s long history in Duluth is a big part of why they are an area favorite.
”We’ve been a ski shop in Duluth for 65 years,” said owner Scott Neustel. "So we’ve always get people lined up with the right gear.”
While the age of the store is important, the time staff have devoted to the sport of skiing while inside the store or outside on the snow makes for good customer service. “Our staff is very experienced and we love to ski,” said Scott. “When people come in we teach them to love the sport and get them into the right gear.”
Best Skateboarding Spot
Superior Skate Park
Located in Heritage Park at 2828 Hammond Ave., the park features a variety of ramps, pipes, rails and boxes for skateboarders, inline skaters and BMX/trick bikes. The park is open until 10 pm daily.
Best Bike Trail
Named after renowned state legislator Willard Munger, 1911-1999, this is 160 miles of multiple-use trails for hiking, bicycling, inline skating, snowmobiling and horseback riding. The paved Duluth-to-Hinckley section offers a spectacular 70-mile journey, following the historic 19th-century route of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad. Along the way are the St. Louis River, Jay Cooke State Park, Thomson Dam, Andrew State Forest and the picturesque towns of Barnum, Finlayson, Willow River and Moose Lake.
Best Public Park
Before the highway went through, Leif Erickson had an an isolated little pocket where hippies in the 1970s hung out, smoked weed and strummed guitars without being hassled by the cops. We need a park like that now. But it’s still a magical place with the bowl-shaped slope and Renaissance stone stage built in 1928, perfect for summer concerts and evening movies with the moon rising and ships sailing past.
The wooden playground, built in 1990 with its castle walls and turrets, had its Harry-Potteresque charms, but its normal lifespan was 20 years. So in 2010 the Junior League replaced it with a space-age metal-and-plastic jungle gym complex and a rubber base that feels like you’re walking on the moon.
Best Place to Walk
With a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor and listed as the No. 2 thing to do while in Duluth, the 7.25 mile Lake Walk stretches from Bayfront Park to Brighton Beach, offering a great walking, jogging or biking experience for residents and visitors alike.
Best Golf Course
The views throughout Nemadji, a public golf course, offer panoramas not found anywhere else near Superior. Nemadji Golf Course is a 4-star Golf Digest-rated championship golf facility featuring 36-holes with five sets of tees catering to all skill levels. Designed by world-renowned course architects Stanley Pelcher, Don Herfort and Roger Packard, you will be sure to test your skills.
Best Ski Hill
Opening to skiers in December 1974, Spirit Mountain was proposed and designed by former Olympic skier George Hovland, with the assistance of late Mayor Ben Boo. Today it’s considered one of Minnesota’s must-see locations, with beautiful views of the lake from the 22 Alpine runs, 175 acres of skiable terrain, 700’ vertical drop, 5 chair lifts, 3 surface lifts. Ski and snowboard lessons, family rates, fat-tire biking, largest terrain park and half-pipe in the Midwest. There’s also winter day tubing and glow tubing at night under the lights. The two Nordic centers feature 2.5 km of Nordic specific trail and 22km of groomed cross-country ski trails (classic tracks and skating) through dense hardwood forest.
Best Sporting Goods Store
Northwest Outlet manager Chris Terwey believes the reason the store was voted Best Sporting Goods Store has something to do with their large selection of items they keep in stock year-round and their expertise and customer service. Among other things, he says they carry a good selection of Columbia, Northface and hiking boots. He also thinks the store is a great place for someone to stop by on their way to the Boundary Waters.”We have a lot of Boundary Water-specific backpacks,” said Chris “I don’t think a lot of people find things like that at a lot of other stores.”
Best Yoga Studio
A few blocks from the Blatnick Bridge is a brownstone building that once housed Superior’s City Hall and police department. Sadly Red Mug Coffee is no longer in the basement, but happily other great businesses are in the building. One great one is the Spirit Room and another is Align Yoga.
Align Yoga has now won our Best Yoga Studio award for its 4th year in a row! Align Yoga has in person classes and continues to offer the virtual classes that began during COVID.