This summer, Charlie’s Up North customers are enjoying the food, amenities and service at the improved, expanded restaurant and bar, which re-opened in mid-June after a seven-month closure.
“Feedback has been great; almost unanimously positive!” owner Charlie Thompson declared last week.
Some guests, however, may not know details of the harrowing incident that made the expansion and renovation necessary.
On Nov. 24, 2017, the day after Thanksgiving, at 1:15 p.m., a tremendous propane explosion rocked the restaurant’s kitchen, slightly injuring Charlie’s wife, Deb. (No worries; she’s OK now.)
The explosion literally raised the roof, lifted the kitchen walls off the ground and was followed by a fire.
At the time, four Cass County Sheriff deputies were having lunch in the restaurant. They quickly escorted other customers out of the building to safety, turned off the gas at the propane tank and made sure everything was safe and secure.
Charlie and Deb are incredibly thankful for the deputies’ quick actions and also for the quick response of the Walker Fire Department.
“The fire inspectors came to investigate, but we haven’t gotten the report back, so we still don’t know the cause of the explosion,” Charlie added.
And while the fire was confined to the kitchen area, there was “horrendous smoke damage to the rest of the bar and restaurant.”
Next came the structural engineers. After reading their report, the Thompsons decided to build a completely new kitchen/restaurant structure plus addition. The bar had survived, although it had to be gutted and remodeled.
Work started in late November and continued through the winter. Among those helping with construction were several Charlie’s employees, who later went back to their jobs at the restaurant.
By mid-June, Charlie’s Up North had re-opened with numerous upgrades and improvements, some that customers will notice, others behind the scenes.
The bar area has a completely new refrigeration system, custom booths, tables and chairs.
“We were able to save all the taxidermy mounts, except for some pelts that were damaged by smoke,” Charlie said. “Restoring the mounts took a lot of work!”
A total of 750 square feet was added to the dining room and kitchen area, enough space for 64 more seats, bringing the seating capacity to 200 plus.
What guests don’t see is the state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, probably the restaurant’s showpiece.
“Our food inspector says it’s one of the nicest kitchens in Minnesota,” says Charlie. “We also added bathrooms and showers for our employees, and we supply all clothing and uniforms for them.”
With a tight labor market, the Thompsons are still looking for more employees, Charlie added, getting in a “help wanted” appeal.
As long as they were at it, the Thompsons decided to renovate the outdoor boat bar, which now has new log structures and log railings, and seats over 100.
As for the menu, “It’s pretty much the same, and the prices are the same. We still serve our fish tacos, and we still have our famous soup and salad bar.”
The bar is open every day from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Food service on Fridays and Saturdays is from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; on Sundays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Charlie’s Up North, located at 6841 Hwy. 371 NW near the Y Junction south of Walker, is open seven days a week. Phone is (218) 547-0222.