Stage Stop food tastes just like shit

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayTwenty years ago, fresh out of college, I began my career in journalism. Everything was about to change in the industry, but it hadn’t changed yet. Print was king, profits were good and the prospect of any local news organization developing a website was the subject of a conversation that started and ended with the phrase “probably next year.”

I was hired as news editor at the Duluth Budgeteer Press, a weekly community paper that produced just enough news content to avoid being considered a “shopper.” Actually, for many years it was considered a shopper, but then another paper came along that was more of a shopper, and the Budge started to be considered a newspaper.

Manny’s Shopper was the weekly coupon rag that lowered the bar and lifted the Budgeteer to prominence. Although no one these days seems to know who Manny was or much else about what became of his shopper, one thing was important 20 years ago: it had committed what is probably not the biggest, but quite likely is the most hilarious, print media blunder northern Minnesota has ever known.

Shortly after my arrival at the Budgeteer in 1996, an advertising salesperson stopped at my desk to share the story. It was a tale already a few years old. I’d guess the incident must have went down around 1993. If I had heard about it when it happened, I had forgotten about it by 1996. Maybe I didn’t believe it the first time. I hadn’t seen the evidence.

Of course, maybe the evidence was doctored up and the whole story was an elaborate hoax to scare the new kid into being careful. I like to run those paranoid notions around in my head. Anyway, fact or fiction, here’s how I remember the story being told to me.

Back in the day, the Carlton edition of Manny’s Shopper ran an ad every week for the Stage Stop Restaurant & Saloon on Highway 210. The framework of the ad was always the same, but the list of daily specials changed frequently. One day, the graphic designer at the paper was updating the specials and thought it would be amusing to mock the ad up with a different slogan than usual … you know, just for laughs among people in the office.

The mockup eventually landed on the desk of the ad salesperson, but apparently no one was snickering nearby, waiting to point out the joke. The salesperson looked over the list of specials and paid no attention to the slogan, which had always been the same in the past. So, yes, the gag ad ran in the paper.

See for yourself. I’ve kept a photocopy of it for 20 years.

Stage Stop Restaurant Carlton

Of course, sometimes what starts out funny ends up not being very funny, and then it gets funny again. According to the version of the story I was told, both the ad designer and the sales person were fired. But the happy ending is that the Stage Stop owners were not upset at all and reported record sales after the ad ran. The taste of their food became the talk of the town. How could people resist going there?

It’s not really surprising that the ad designer was fired. There’s an easy lesson to take from this story: be careful clowning around on the job or you won’t have one.

Reasonable people will stick up for the salesperson, though. Why would someone be expected to notice the slogan was changed? An efficient worker will carefully look over the list of specials and not bother reading the parts that should be unaltered. So, really, the salesperson did nothing wrong.

Well, maybe we don’t know all the facts, and maybe we don’t even know half of the facts, but we can still pull a lesson out: Sometimes owners and managers feel the need to set a strong example, even if it seems unjust. Most of us don’t like that, but knowing it’s a reality is the fastest way to cope. Sometimes you have to eat what’s on your plate, even if it tastes just like shit.

SpowlRibbonPaul Lundgren is author of The Spowl Ribbon, a book released in 2010 that finally broke even in 2015. Publishing success!




about 8 years ago

This thing was the highlight of my grandma's year!  She'd sneakily pull it out to show people.  (Heads rolled in her version of the story, too.)  Good memory.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Footnote #1:  The Stage Stop is still around, sort of. It became Spirits Restaurant & Bar in 2001.

T. Heinonen

about 8 years ago

I remember this ad too back in the day and it was the talk around the art department and sales department at the DNT when I used to work there. I remember when I started there in 1981 one of the old timers in the composing department said someone had "mis-spelled" Warehouse sale" to say Whorehouse Sale." Needless to say someone was let go I believe. Then a few years into working there as an artist (before computers, and when we artists only did spec ads and simple paste-ups or actual board work with pen, pencil, airbrush, etc. for the sales staff ... we were not allowed to set type, this was the composing department's job, union printers).

There was a real estate ad that had a misspell. It was for a property around the Pike Lake area that read something like: 4 bedroom, 3 bath Ranch home, garage. Next to gravel pit. The printer spelled out "grave pit" and when the ad ran the realtor had a fit and the poor type setter got a stern talking to.

Then a few months later it was near Halloween and the realtor kinda saw the mistake ad as something fun and decided to run the property with the phrase "grave pit" only intentionally ... and you guessed it, the typesetters not wanting to make a mistake again spelled it "gravel pit." The realtor just sighed and said oh well. There are other stories too that I saw in my 31 years there -- for another time.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Footnote #2: Budgeteer Press changed its name in 1997 to Budgeteer News, the moniker it still carries today. The original name of the paper, when it was started in 1931, was the Family Budgeter.

Founder Herb Palmer, and later his son Richard, owned the paper until 1995. They sold it to Murphy McGinnis Media, which sold to American Consolidated Media in 2004, which in turn sold it to Knight Ridder four months later. And that's how the Budge became a product of the Duluth News Tribune.

I remember one Budgeteer story of an ad gone wrong. The Budgeteer office used to be two doors down from the Danish Bakery in West Duluth, which advertised in the paper. The bakery had closed by the time I arrived at the Budge, but when it was open it was obviously frequented by Budgeteer staff looking for goodies. One day someone found a fly in his or her danish or muffin or whatever, so a joke ad was mocked up that promoted some bakery item as available "with or without flies" or something like that. And somehow, according to the story I was told, the ad ran in the paper. So I was told, it took a long time for the Danish Bakery people to forgive and forget that one.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Footnote #3: Manny's Shopper was also acquired by American Consolidated Media more than a decade ago and still exists in some areas, such as Grand Rapids, Virginia and Hibbing.

Manny's Shopper

Manny's Shopper areas where the Duluth News Tribune acquired ownership are treated to something called the Northland Smart Shopper.
Cloquet Area Northland Smart Shopper

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Footnote #4: Jennifer Cadigan, who managed the Stage Stop, made this comment on Facebook:

It wasn't a slogan. It was something about happy hour in the bar, if I'm remembering correctly. I was managing the complex at the time. I was about 25 years old and I couldn't stop laughing. The owners were so mad at me and I just could not stop. I'm almost 50 now and I'm still laughing. Good times. The sales rep was not terminated. He had been there forever and the restaurant owners would have had a fit. The kid that did the layout was terminated.
So, as predicted, not all the details of the essay are precise. Of course, we can't let the facts hold back a good story, right?

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Footnote #5: Here's a late-1990s TV commercial for Porter's, the Galley at Barker's Island Inn and Jim & Jo's Stage Stop Restaurant & Saloon.

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