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Fire Destroys Half Of Dorset's Restaurants

Photo Gallery: Early September Storm Damage

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Two of the four restaurants in Dorset -- a town of just 22 people in northern Minnesota -- were reportedly damaged by fire overnight as severe storms rolled through the area.

Some in Dorset, Minn. are calling this the end of an era. The fire was discovered at about 4 a.m., according to the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office. It was still smoldering Thursday evening.

The fire is devastating for the town's residents, especially those who built those businesses from the ground up.

Dorset House & Companeros
(credit: Karrie Davis)

Rick Kempnich says he watched his life's work at the Dorset House and Companeros Mexican Restaurant go up in flames.

"When we got just past this little town of Nevis, we could see the orange glow in the sky. I mean, we knew it was big," Kempnich says. "It started in the Dorset House, and when we hooked the two together, we kind of put [in] a firewall – but it went over the top of that. So Companeros was burning just huge by the time we got here."

By the time fire crews from neighboring towns arrived, the Dorset House and Companeros were burning out of control.

It took hours to knock the flames down. Smoke rising from the ashes is all that's left of one half of the eateries in town.

Lundrigan's Clothing Store suffered smoke and water damage. What's left inside has to be moved out. It's an emotional day for those who have made the store their lives for the last 30 year. But owner Nancy Freeman says they're counting their blessings.

"Above the Dorset House, I know they had some kids living there that worked at Companeros and the Dorset House, I believe," Freeman said. "They all, I think, moved out last weekend, so, it could've been, it could've been a lot worse."

Most who call Dorset home, or spend time there at the cabin in the summer, were there to lend a helping hand. One hug at a time, they vow to help those who helped make Dorset a destination for generations.

"I just really hope that Rick and Laura rebuild because they are Dorset," Freeman said.

The two restaurants are a total loss. Rick and Laura Kempnich say they are still in shock and not quite sure what they're going to do. They say right now, all they are taking life one hour at a time.

Michael Kenney is the son of Norbert Kenney, who opened the Dorsett House in the early 1980s. They sold to the Kempnichs in 1994.

Norbert Kenney died just this past spring at age 71 of cancer. Kenney says he hadn't been able to go back into the restaurant until just over a month ago.

"I could not get myself to go in there, just because there were so many memories tied up in there," Kenney said.

But in late July, he and his family were in the area and he decided to stop in.

"I went in there with my family, not knowing it would be the last time," he said. "I was thinking, 'Wow, I can't wait until my kids are older and can maybe appreciate [this] a little more.'"

Dorset House was recently chosen by WCCO viewers as the best place in the state to get an ice cream sundae.

Dorset also made headlines when then 4-year-old Bobby Tufts was elected mayor.

Because there were so many restaurants per capita in Dorset, the town dubbed itself "The Restaurant Capitol of the World."

The other two restaurants in town are still open for business.

The fire marshal has not determined yet if lightning was the cause of the fire. There was a fire an hour later down the road in Park Rapids, where some homes were possibly destroyed by lightning.

A donation account has been set up at State Bank of Park Rapids under the name "Companeros And Dorset House Benefit Fund." Any gifts, notes or flowers can be sent to:

Companeros/Dorset House
C/O Suzanne
1006 Spruce Lane
Park Rapids, Minn.

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