Minot has a long, rich history spanning well over 100 years, and the new owner of a longtime business is embracing that heritage wholeheartedly.
Geewon Anderson, a U.S. citizen originally from South Korea, purchased Charlie's Main Street Cafe May 14 this year, and has worked hard to let the cafe's own long history blend with the Magic City's.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Geewon Anderson married Joel Anderson, who works as a civilian contractor with the United States military. Anderson said she has never liked hot weather, and her husband was able to transfer from Seoul to Anchorage, Alaska in 1991.
This figure, who Geewon Anderson, owner of Charlie’s Main Street Cafe, has named Charlie, stands on a handmade pedestal next to a clock and represents the timelessness of the food and friendships made inside the cafe. In the background hangs an old sign for the cafe.
Customers enjoy the newly remodeled interior of Charlie’s Main Street Cafe Friday afternoon. Dozens of old black and white photos from Minot’s past hang on the walls, inspiring customers and staff alike to wonder about their stories.
The late-afternoon rays of the sun shine on the sign for Charlie’s Main Street Cafe Friday, casting shadows across the entrance. The cafe has been a Minot fixture for over half a century and the new owner, Geewon Anderson, has embraced that heritage with a remodeled interior dedicated to Minot’s past.
"And ever since then I've just stayed there with my husband," Anderson said, noting Alaska's cold climate agrees with her. "I've been in the legal field, and I was a mortgage broker. I've been working as a mortgage originator or broker."
She still does work in the mortgage field in Anchorage and has a home there, and how she landed in Minot is a story unto itself.
Like many people who emigrate from their original country to find a better life in the United States, Anderson wanted to help the family she left behind find similar success. With her family wanting to immigrate into the United States as well, Anderson looked at ways she could help them find good jobs. Because her family isn't as fluent in English as she is, Anderson worried the language barrier they would face in this country would limit their job opportunities to manual labor and things of that nature.
Charlie's Main Street Cafe is located in downtown Minot at 113 S. Main St. The phone number is 839-6500. Hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
"That would hurt my feelings a lot if they would come here and just have to do janitorial kind of service or something," Anderson said. "So I thought I could just go ahead and buy the restaurant and let them run it, which really did work fine here."
She started looking around Anchorage for opportunities, but didn't find much. Anchorage is a city of over 250,000 people, and Anderson said there are many Korean-speaking people there who already own small businesses. This made the prospects of starting her own successful business there difficult at best.
"So competition was pretty high because there's a lot of restaurants going on and there are a lot of Korean people working as the owners at the restaurants," Anderson said. "I thought I can buy the restaurant and help them to Anchorage, but I just didn't want to deal with all the competition and working long hours and making little money. I was not going to do that."
Around this time she started hearing about many great opportunities that could be found in North Dakota due to the oil boom. She thought North Dakota might have potential, but knew little about the state.
As luck would have it, Anderson used to own a commercial building and had a tenant who knew more about what was going on there. Anderson originally forgot to have the tenant sign a lease, and when she took a lease to him he replied that he couldn't because he was on his way to North Dakota to work on the flood recovery efforts. This was her first knowledge of Minot.
Anderson said she had a friend who was a general contractor, and he also mentioned to her that he had to make a trip to North Dakota.
"I said, 'What's in North Dakota?' And he said, 'Oh, there's a construction boom going on,'" Anderson said. "So I said when you come back, I want to talk to you."
Anderson's friend had coincidentally been to Minot on his trip, and she talked to him about it when he got back to Alaska. She learned all about Minot, including how to pronounce its name, from her friend and saw an opportunity.
She made a trip to Minot in January of this year, but didn't see anything that jumped out at her right away. She thought about starting up a Japanese restaurant, but soon realized the people of Minot eat meat and potatoes, not fish.
She made a second and third trip to Minot, finally deciding to buy Charlie's.
Anderson still employs the same cooks from the previous owners, and said kept around 90 percent of the original menu intact. She noted they don't use instant mixes, preferring instead to make everything from scratch.
Anderson said after sitting down at many different restaurants around town, she feels confident in saying Charlie's has the best-tasting traditional Midwest food in Minot.
Those were the easy decisions. Much more difficult was the look she wanted the cafe to have after a complete renovation in August.
"I left everything blank because I couldn't think of a theme," Anderson said.
She thought of doing some sort of typical family restaurant theme with little to no personality, but quickly decided against it.
"I wanted to put some theme into the restaurant," Anderson said. "I wanted to put personality into the restaurant."
After thinking it over for two months, it finally just came to her.
"Boom, that's it. This restaurant has a lot of history. There is history to tell, a lot of tradition to tell," Anderson said. "I know this restaurant is sort of like an icon of downtown Minot, so I wanted to keep up with that theme."
The rest was easy. Anderson believes the building has been there since 1905, and the cafe is well over 50 years old, so there was a lot of history to pull from. She searched the Internet and found a treasure trove of heritage.
"I got into stories of (President Dwight) Eisenhower visiting Minot," Anderson said. "The original owner, he has been a main chef for President Eisenhower when he was here, all of that stuff."
She searched the Internet and found dozens of old black and white photos from Minot's past, which now hang proudly on the walls. The old sign for the cafe was found in the back, washed and hung inside with the photos.
"I don't want to paint it or anything; I want to keep it as it is," Anderson said. "I don't want to repair that kind of stuff; I just want to keep it as it is. It is so valuable."
Her husband also carved a scene of a Native American hunting a buffalo that hangs above the cash register to add some regional history to the cafe. Also, she has a handmade pedestal with a man she calls Charlie standing next to a clock. Anderson said she wanted this scene to signify the sort of timelessness that can be found in the cafe, from the photos on the walls to the traditional food a customer's parents and grandparents probably ate.
Anderson said more than one customer has mentioned to her that they recognize someone in one of the photos, so she has decided to have an event in January that asks customers come down and see if they recognize any of the people in the photos and can tell their stories.
"So they can name these people and I can give them a prize,"Anderson said. "We're going to make some fun out of it."
Customer response to the redesign has been phenomenal. Anderson said the waitressing staff is averaging 50 percent more in tips, and to further encourage a good mood in the restaurant she plays classic rock music, which older and younger generations can both enjoy.
"Even today, at least five people comment to me, every single day, 'I really thank you for remodeling the restaurant,'" Anderson said. "'I really like it.'"