By: Kevin Bonham
DEVILS LAKE—Reg Herman doesn’t need a formal exercise regimen these days. If he’s not briskly walking from one end or the other of the 72,000-square-foot former Wal-Mart store—probably while talking on his cellphone—he is apt to be atop some scaffolding, building a wall for a new restaurant.
“It’s a long, bumpy road, but it’s going pretty good,” said Herman, who farms in the Brinsmade, N.D., area.
Contractors are cutting holes in the exterior walls for new doors and windows to provide a more open atmosphere. Interior walls are being painted in shades of burnt rust and other softer colors, he said.
The restaurant is being built in an old-fashioned barn style to give it a rustic, western look. Much of the wood for the project came from timber that survived a forest fire in northern Minnesota.
“We don’t want it to look like a Wal-Mart,” he said. “We want it to be open, warm, inviting.”
The plaza already is home to a couple of businesses, and more will open in January and February, even as the building transformation continues.
ATA Martial Arts expanded its operation when it moved to the mall in October from cramped quarters in downtown Devils Lake, said Ryan Arndt, the martial arts facility owner and instructor. Parking also was becoming an issue.
The business has about 85 members, from age 4 to 60-plus.
“It’s nice to have the open-floor plan and space for parents to watch,” he said.
The other business is locally-owned Green Valley Foods, which produces flavored popcorn under the brand name Colorado Jack, as well as specialty cheeses. The company is marketing the popcorn locally at Leevers Foods.
Dunn Brothers Coffee plans to open Jan. 18, while Newby’s Ace Hardware and a health and nutrition business are on pace to open by Feb. 1.
Newby’s is a North Dakota family business that opened its first store opened in Dickinson in 1977. The company expanded to Bowman, N.D., in 2013. The 13,000-square-foot Devils Lake store will offer hardware, plumbing supplies and housewares, as well as fishing gear and marina supplies, Newby’s co-owner Cliff Newby said said.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” he said.
Dunn Brothers, which features coffee, tea, espresso and sandwiches, is operated by John and Sharalee Gunther, who moved to Devils Lake from Ohio in August. Sharalee Gunther is related to the Herman family. John Gunther also is the plaza’s operations manager. The couple recently returned from China, where they spent three years in the teaching profession.
“We loved it in China, but it’s time to do something else,” John Herman said. “I’m a coffee fanatic.”
A meeting room, adjacent to Dunn Brothers, will be able to seat 40 to 75 people.
Dunn Brothers and Newby’s will command prominent positions on the east and west ends of the mall.
John Herman is recruiting a potential restaurant, which likely will feature Mexican or Italian cuisine, he said. The decision is based on informal surveys among area residents. “We don’t want a chain,” he said. “We want a mom-and-pop-type of restaurant.”
Newby’s, Dunn Brothers and the restaurant will have separate exterior entrances, facing U.S. Highway 2. The coffee shop, which also features breakfast and lunch menus, and the restaurant also will have outdoor seating.
“We look at Dunn Brothers as being the morning focal point, and the restaurant as the afternoon and evening focal point,” Herman said.
Work in progress
The City Plaza group purchased the building in February, about seven months after Wal-Mart moved into a 120,000-square-foot Supercenter on the east end of this city, which is home to about 7,200 residents.
City Plaza also is one of two local investor groups vying to develop a proposed Devils Lake events center. The other is Kaeding Development Group, which owns several hotels, including the Holiday Inn Express in Devils Lake.
Forward Devils Lake, the regional economic development corporation, recently commissioned a feasibility study of a proposed events and convention center with a possible attached hotel.
Devils Lake officials have been considering a possible convention center for several years. However, plans stalled about a year ago when local voters rejected a city sales tax increase to finance a $23.6 project to convert the former Wal-Mart property into a convention and events center and to build a separate wellness center at Lake Region State College.
City Plaza unveiled its own plans to develop the Wal-Mart property after that election defeat.
A large portion of the building is being reserved for the potential events center in case the City Plaza owners land the deal, he said. If it doesn’t, the space will be developed for retail, possibly for a large anchor store.
“The architect laid it out so it could be an events center or retail,” Herman said. “My heart would rather have an events center, but my billfold would prefer retail. It’s a tug of war. But whatever it is, it’s going to be good for Devils Lake.”