Sunshine Café leads the list of 2023 restaurant casualties

The Sunshine Café in West Duluth closed at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. Owners announced this year it will not reopen. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

One of Duluth’s most significant restaurant closures of 2023 technically happened in 2020. The Sunshine Café closed more than three years ago as COVID-19 swept the country. What was considered a temporary closure at the time was finally announced as permanent in September 2023.

The Twin Ports restaurant scene has stabilized and grown as the pandemic has wound down, but the closure of the beloved diner at 5719 Grand Ave. in West Duluth can be seen as evidence the coronavirus fallout lingers. The Sunshine Café had been a neighborhood gathering place for more than three decades.

“After three years, we made the very difficult decision to sell the building,” owners Young-a and Steve Clement wrote on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “During our time here we made so many memories with our dear friends and neighbors. It is time for the next people to experience the same.”

The Sunshine Café furniture, kitchen and fixtures remain in place and ready for a new owner. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

The festive café with a five-stool counter and a dozen wooden booths still looks ready to serve its famous Swedish pancakes any minute. But the doors remain locked and lights off. A handmade sign in the window gives notice the place is “for sale by owner.”

“Sadly missed,” wrote a customer on Facebook. “COVID has ruined so many businesses but I miss the Sunshine Café the most of any of them.”

A Superior branch of Wasabi Japanese restaurant burned in January, 2023. A new building is under construction. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

Fire is also a restaurant killer. Two Twin Ports eateries fell to flame in 2023.

Wasabi Japanese Cuisine, at 3333 Tower Ave. in Superior, was destroyed by fire Jan. 30. The building, located across the street from the Superior Fire Department headquarters, was reported on fire shortly after midnight. Crews battled the flames and frigid temperatures but the building was a total loss by sunrise.

A Fox21 video shows the extent of the destruction.

Wasabi owners, who also operate a Downtown Duluth location, said they plan to reopen in Superior. Following the fire, the site was cleared and construction has started on a new restaurant.

“We will be open in 2024,” said a spokesperson. “They are working on it now.”

The Chow Haul food truck crashed and burned at the corner of Sixth Avenue East and Ninth Street last summer. (Photo from Go Fund Me)

The Chow Haul food truck crashed and burned in a scary incident last June.

According to reports in the Duluth News Tribune, the restaurant on wheels was headed downhill on Sixth Avenue East when it slammed into a utility pole at Ninth Street. The vehicle burst into flames and burned at the corner.

No one was seriously hurt in the crash but the truck was a total loss.

Chow Haul was one of the first food trucks to serve the Twin Ports area, launching in 2012. A Go Fund Me campaign was established by Julie Torkelson, whose son Keith Burgess owned and operated Chow Haul.

“This is our chance to help him rebuild something that he loves and I believe the community loves too,” said Torkelson. “The only way ChowHaul will exist again is if the community wants it to. He’s going to need a new truck and all of the equipment, utensils and little things like food and fuel to bring back what they had.”

The Go Fund Me drive set a goal of $100,000 to replace the truck but money has been slow to come in. The drive has raised less than $3,000.

The Apostle Supper Club, located atop the Duluth Radisson Harborview Hotel, closed in June and was replaced by Harbor 360. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

Fortunately, fire had nothing to do with the closure of the revolving restaurant high atop the Radisson Hotel in downtown Duluth.

According to WDIO, the Apostle Supper Club saw its one-year lease run out and operations headed by St. Paul restaurant mogul Brian Ingram closed in June.

Ingram remodeled Minnesota’s only rotating restaurant giving the space a groovy, Palm Springs-inspired vibe to go with its stunning city view. But the full-service supper club concept never caught on.

“They definitely could have done better with the food,” said one Facebook commenter. “There was not a great deal of effort in some of their dishes, and yes, they were out of several things.”

Harbor 360 took over the space just weeks after the Apostle shut its doors.

Shortly after opening in Duluth, Ingram started a second, super-sized Apostle Supper Club in downtown St. Paul near the Xcel Energy Center. The St. Paul restaurant remains in business.

The T-Icy Roll Ice Cream shop in the Denfeld Retail Center closed in May. A Classy Nails outlet has taken over the space. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

T-Icy Roll Ice Cream closed its Grand Avenue business in the spring, ending a nearly five-year run in the Denfeld Retail Center.

Owner Daniel Huang and manager Michelle Lin started as the Bubble Tea Company of Duluth in the Miller Hill Mall in May, 2018. They quickly expanded operations creating T-Icy Roll — a hibachi-style Thai ice cream parlor — three months later. A downtown Duluth location was announced in March 2019.

But none of the three businesses remain. Both Bubble Tea Company and the downtown location failed to survive the pandemic. The Grand Avenue outlet closed in May.

“Really sad,” said management in a post on the T-Icy Facebook page. “Thank you so much for all of your support for our business for those years. We will miss you guys so, so much.”

The closing announcement on Facebook cited an expired lease. The post generated more than 350 comments from disappointed customers.

“I’ve been going here for years. I’m so sad that you guys are closing. I’m wishing you all well,” said one commenter. “The strawberry milk tea with tapioca will be my favorite forever.”

Ride or Die Pizzeria closed in the former Thirsty Pagan location after almost two years in business. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

Motorcycle-themed Ride or Die Pizzeria ran out of gas and died in Superior last spring. The restaurant opened in July 2021 at 1623 Broadway St. in the old Thirsty Pagan location.

Owners Terry and Dawn Johnson opened Ride or Die after operating Lee’s Pizza in Lincoln Park. The couple opened a Cloquet Ride or Die Pizzeria in August, 2021 which is also no longer in business.

Dolce Vita closed in south Superior last June. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske).

Another Superior restaurant, Dolce Vita, 5802 Tower Ave., closed its doors in June. Owner Zudi Maksutowski opened the eatery in April 2021 serving steaks and pasta along with local beer and wine.

In a Facebook post, Maksutowski said market conditions and staffing made it difficult to remain open. “The ability to spend time with family is an important factor, and unfortunately it is not feasible anymore to work seven days a week and miss out on family milestones,” he said.

The Tower Avenue building, home to many restaurants over the years, is currently available for lease.

Burger Paradox took over the short lived Coach’s Bar and Grill in Lincoln Park. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

Coach’s Bar and Grill, 2113 W. Superior, in Duluth opened in 2022 and didn’t survive the year. The sports bar replaced Spoon’s which suffered fire damage and closed in September 2021. The space is now home to Burger Paradox.

The newly constructed Boulder Tap House will open at the former site of Grizzly’s Wood Fired Grill on Tower Avenue in Superior. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske).

After 25 years in Superior, Grizzly’s Wood Fired Grill, 3405 Tower Ave., closed in May. Owner Rick Lampton told the Superior Telegram a new building on the site will house the Boulder Tap House, a craft beer and burger chain with restaurants in Minnesota and Iowa. Both Grizzly’s and the new Boulder Tap House are part of the St. Cloud-based Letnes Restaurant Group.

Lampton and his Letnes Restaurant Group also changed up its Duluth branding. The company closed the Blue Rock Grill in the Miller Hill Mall area last March. The restaurant reopened at the former 7 West Taphouse space on Superior Street downtown. 7 West Taphouse, which is also a Lampton enterprise, maintains a Twin Ports presence in downtown Superior and near the Miller Hill Mall.

The Loch coffee shop has taken over the former Golden Bulldog building on 18th Ave. E. in Duluth Endion neighborhood. (Photo by Mark Nicklawske)

The Golden Bulldog, 318 N. 18th Ave. E., an arcade and lounge catering to University of Minnesota Duluth students, closed in early 2023. The low-key neighborhood spot had been in business for about two years. A coffee shop called the Loch now occupies the building.


For details on eating and drinking establishments that opened in 2023, read the companion piece to this story, “Trifecta of restaurants opened in Duluth’s Lincoln Park in 2023.”

1 Comment

Helmut Flaag

about 5 months ago

Just can't believe the all-inclusive family friendly themed Ride or Die went under. What's the world coming to?

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