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After Devastating Fire, Dorset Restaurants Will Need New Blood To Rebuild

DORSET, Minn. (WCCO) -- The town of Dorset was put on the map when a 3-year-old became mayor, but it has long been visited by people around the state who travel to eat at the Restaurant Capitol of the World.

Four restaurants lined the lone street that takes visitors through the charming northwestern Minnesota town.

A year ago, a devastating fire started by lightning destroyed two of them. The owners said they feel it's time for someone else's dream to take shape.

"It's still hard to look at," said Rick Kempnich, thinking about the place where the Dorset House once stood.

Last fall, a storm moved through the area.

"We woke up because lightning, it was like a constant banging, really intense," Kempnich said.

A phone call kept his family awake. The Dorset House, which his family owned, was on fire.

"You could just see this huge orange glow, and both of our stomachs just dropped, and when we got close it was just a fire ball," Kempnich said.

The Dorset House burned to the ground. Firefighters worked to protect Companeros next door, but the fire was so relentless it jumped the firewall, and the Mexican restaurant could not be saved.

"It didn't seem quite real," Kempnich said. "We've been there 30 years, and it's just disappearing in front of our eye."

The Kempnichs bought the Dorset House 20 years ago. Rick and his dad started Companeros.

Customers flooded their Facebook page with memories and pictures. Instead of open space, they see the memories made over the past 30 years.

"I think of people sitting on the boardwalk eating their ice cream cones," Laura Kempnich said.

Many of those moments were captured on WCCO.

The Dorset House was named the Best Sundae in Minnesota.

My brothers and I sat at the old soda fountain more times than I can count growing up.

And Companeros was a favorite for family and friends.

It's a place that was special to many with engagements, bachelorette parties and anniversaries spent there.

The couple thought long and hard about rebuilding, but with Rick approaching retirement age, they made the difficult decision to pass the torch.

"The problem is we'd sink our retirement into it, we'd borrow a bunch of money. It just doesn't, it doesn't make sense for us," Rick Kempnich said.

And now they feel it's time for a new Dorset House and Companeros to take shape.

"It's a turning point, a crossroads in our life. It was the building of Rick and his dad's dreams to start with, and now it's just the right time for it to be the building of someone else's dreams," Laura Kempnich said.

The land is for sale -- optimistic for someone who wants to be as much a part of the small town community as they were.

"We feel so grateful to all these people that have supported us for so long. Hopefully it was a two-way street," Rick Kempnich said.

There have been people interested in buying, but no one that has come through yet. The Kempnich's said they hope whoever steps in to rebuild will hire them.

They'd like to be part of the next chapter as Dorset regains its title as Restaurant Capitol of the World.

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