Looking for somewhere to shop or eat? Here are the popular local businesses, restaurants, and attractions organized by location. Everything you need to know, and everywhere you want to go, is right here.
With National Chocolate Chip Day happening at the end of May and National Fudge day in June, we have decided to bring you a series called “North Shore Sweet Tooth”, introducing you to two of our favorite businesses in Grand Marais for anyone with a sweet tooth looking to celebrate these two candy-inspired holidays.
Kicking off our series is Beth’s Fudge & Gifts!
Sitting near the corner of Broadway and Wisconsin Street in the heart of downtown Grand Marais is a picturesque blue building that will take you back to childhood memories of soda fountains and candy stores. Inside, you will be greeted with walls of gifts and collectibles, homemade pies, and, best of all, freshly made fudge in over 30 unique varieties.
This is Beth’s Fudge & Gifts; a family owned and operated shop that has been bringing joy to the hearts of Grand Marais visitors since 1984 with free samples of their delicious fudge. Originally opened by Beth Kennedy in 1984, the store is now owned by her son, Danny, making it a second-generation North Shore business. Some things in the store have changed over the years, but one thing has remained the same; the fudge.
Sea Salt Caramel, Maple Bacon, Chocolate Explosion, Chewy Pecan Praline, and Chocolate Mint Swirl are just some of the varieties to choose from. All of the fudge is made in-house to ensure their fresh and unique flavors using the family’s original recipe. Beth’s Fudge & Gifts is in the top 5 selling fudge shops in all of the Midwest and for good reason. The fudge is great and the friendly atmosphere will keep you coming back year after year.
Unable to make it up for a fudge fix? They also ship! For mail orders call 218-387-2081.
Beth’s Fudge & Gifts is a quintessential small town, family operated shop that is a must-visit on your next trip to Lake Superior’s North Shore. Visit them on Facebook to see shop updates, including their latest addition; homemade pies by the slice (or buy a whole one, if you so choose)!
You can find Beth’s Fudge & Gifts at 11 S Broadway Ave, Grand Marais. See their Facebook page for current hours of operation.
Our North Shore Sweet Tooth series continues this week with the Gunflint Mercantile.
About a block from the Grand Marais Harbor, tucked into a little brick building, you will find a little shop that will bring back memories of a time when penny candy and homemade confections could be found in candy stores dotted across America.
The Gunflint Mercantile and Candy Company is a shop that will satisfy your sweet tooth, as well as your desire for nostalgia.
Sure, the shelves are lined with packaged candy you can find in many other places, selling for as low as 10 cents a piece, so not quite the penny candy of old, but the handmade fudge, truffles, and soup and cake mixes will take you back to a better time- where care was taken with each homemade morsel. Yes, The Gunflint Mercantile still makes these things, by hand, in the back of the shop.
Chelsea, the owner of The Gunflint Mercantile, purchased the shop in 2011 and reopened it without changing much from the original turn-of-the-century concept. However, she has continued to grow the homemade goods selection, often coming up with new ideas for fudge and truffles. This year, Chelsea got the idea to get some of the leftover donut holes from World’s Best Donuts and make a Donut Truffle. The idea was a success- creating a delicious truffle inspired by another popular local business. This new truffle will be available this summer at both The Gunflint Mercantile and World’s Best Donuts.
Known as “The Candy Store” by locals, The Gunflint Mercantile is a favorite for locals and tourists alike. A place where you can find candies you enjoyed as a child, introduce your own children or grandchildren to the candy store concept you once enjoyed, and try some delicious, homemade, North Shore fudge and truffles. Be sure to pick up a soup mix to enjoy when the weather gets cold again!
Can’t make the trip up to the North Shore, but still want some delicious fudge, truffles, and more? You can get some tasty Gunflint Mercantile treats delivered right to your door by ordering on their website.
You can visit the Gunflint Mercantile at 12 First Avenue West in Grand Marais. Also be sure to like Facebook page for updates, hours of operation, and more.
The craft brew has swept the nation and Cook County is getting in on the craze with its own local brewery: The Voyageur Brewing Company.
Located on the corner of Highway 61 and 3rd Ave W near the heart of downtown Grand Marais you will find a modern-warehouse looking building that houses this amazing local company. Come in for the beer and food, stay for the live music, and make some friends along the way. Voyageur is a family-friendly, upbeat local hangout that brings tourists and locals together. With its rooftop deck, outdoor patio, and dog-friendly atmosphere it is welcoming to all, even for non-beer drinkers who can come to enjoy the ambiance.
The brews have been expertly crafted by area locals who keep the taste buds of Minnesotans in mind when creating the recipes for their beers. There are the regular favorites like the Devil’s Kettle (an India Pale Ale), Trailbreaker (a Belgian Wheat), Palisade (a Porter), and the Boundary Waters Brunette (a Brown Ale). Then, there are seasonal beers that come in for a short period of time to keep the menu fresh. These have included December 2016’s Otter Slide Imperial Brown Ale (a Brown Ale with Maple and Peanut Butter), February 2017’s Cold Hunter Milk Stout, August 2017’s Autumn Sun (a Grapefruit Double IPA), and September 2017’s North Road (Fresh Hop Ale). They also offer a unique selection of Beer Cocktails which include the Michelada (a Boundary Waters with Bloody Mary Mix), Beermosa (my personal favorite, the Trailbreakter with Orange Juice and Orange Zest), and the Radler (the Trailbreaker with Grapefruit Juice, Lime, and Ginger).
Looking to pair your beer with some great food? Or, not a beer drinker at all but a lover of quality eats? The Voyageur’s menu may be small, but it’s far from simple in both taste and quality. Keeping in the spirit of being a small craft business, most items are made fresh right in the kitchen, with limited packaged ingredients. Fish comes in fresh straight from Lake Superior and the bread is baked each day in-house. The cheese curds are a must-try. Check out the menu for the full back-story on the curds. The Picnic Board is another popular dish. Easy to share bread, cheeses, fruit, and stealhead trout. The Sliders, Tacos, Wings, and Flatbreads are available in a variety of styles and options. All of the food is designed to be shared with friends and family around the table. For the little ones, there’s a kid’s menu, with dishes named after the children of staff members. Be sure to save room for a Bacon Toffee Sundae, Porter Float, or a Root Beer Float, too!
Voyageur Brewing Company set out to be a meeting place as well as a company that would give back to the local economy. Since opening, they’ve done just that. Local businesses have hosted private parties here and used the dining area for lunchtime meetings. Softball teams like to swing by after their games, and people have been gathering here before heading out on other North Shore adventures. Live music brings in visitors from all over the Northland. They host events like board game night and markets featuring local artists. In addition to all of that, Wednesdays are known as Raise a Pint Night, where local non-profits have an easy way to raise money for their cause. In 2017 the company gave over $20,000 monetary and product donations to several area Non-Profits. Some of these have included the North House Folk School, WTIP (local public radio station), Cook County Food Shelf, and the North Shore Health Care Foundation. They are a company who cares not only about providing quality brews and food for customers to enjoy, but also giving back to the community that has made the brewery so successful.
So be sure to swing by for a visit on your next trip to Grand Marais. Hours of operation, a live music schedule, a full menu, and more can be found on the Voyageur Brewing Company website. Be sure to connect with Voyageur Brewing Company on Facebook for even more news and updates. And watch our interview with owner Mike Prom to learn more about this great company.
The North Shore Sweet Tooth Series continues with Part 3: World’s Best Donuts
World’s Best Donuts is another Grand Marais staple that has been around for a long time. Owner Dee’s grandmother opened the donut shop in 1969 and ownership has been passed down from the women in the family ever since, with Dee being a third-generation owner. The cake donut recipe used is the same as the original 1969 recipe that Dee’s grandmother started with. Over the years, the offerings have expanded from the traditional cake donuts to about 30 varieties of donut .
So, if fudge isn’t what you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, what about donuts? Whether you’re on the hunt for a traditional Glazed Cake Donut, a Chocolate-Dipped Cake Donut, or a Cinnamon Sugar Cake Donut, they have them all. There’s more than just the traditional donuts, however! Tubby Twist? They have them! Pull-Aparts? Yup, those, too. Skizzles? Ya betcha. Turn-Overs, Muffins, Bismarks, Long Johns? Yes, yes, yes, and yes!
With so many varieties of baked good to choose from, you couldn’t possibly go and not find something that you love. I asked the Cascade Vacation Rentals staff to name their favorites, just to see if everyone could agree on one donut that is the best…. or even just pick ONE. (Spoiler alert: no two people picked the same one and many couldn’t pick just one.)
Kat: Chocolate Donuts! If they have sprinkles that is even better. (She’s referring to Chet’s Best.)
Rista: I like the plain glazed donuts.
Sarena: Long Johns! Chocolate Knots! Anything with cream in it! Anything made of donut!
Laura: Strawberry Cream Cheese Swirl
Andrew: Raspberry Filled Bismark
Tami: Anything caramel or maple frosting.
Augie: Chocolate Knots
Chili: Nothing with vegetables
And me? Well, I’d have to go with the Strawberry Cream Cheese Swirl. Or, maybe the Maple Long John. The Skizzle is pretty good, too. Oh! And the Strawberry Roly Poly.
You can visit World’s Best Donuts in the little red building with white shutters seasonally from May through October at the corner of Wisconsin Street and Broadway in downtown Grand Marais. The shop opens at 6:30 AM and closing times vary. When the donuts sell out, they close up for the day. This could be at 3 PM or 5 PM. You never know, so don’t wait until the last minute to pick up your favorite donut! Also, be sure to follow them on Facebook for news and updates.
If you are traveling between Duluth and Two Harbors on your next North Shore Vacation, do yourself a favor and take the “long way” by turning onto Scenic Drive just outside of Duluth. This slower-paced road takes you right along Lake Superior and through some lesser known lake-side communities. It is also along this road that you will come to the next shop we are featuring in our North Shore Sweet Tooth Series.
For Part 4 of our Sweet Tooth Series, we bring you to the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen.
Toward the end of your journey on the Scenic Drive between Duluth and Two Harbors, you will come to the community of Knife River, a quaint, peaceful community that was incorporated in 1909, just four years after a man named Gust Canelake started a family candy store in Virginia, MN.
This candy store called the Virginia Candy Kitchen, and, later, Canelake’s Candies, is where the story of the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen begins. You see, the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen is owned by third (and fourth) generation candy makers who have learned the art of candy making from their Grandfather, Gust. Owners Pamela and Patricia still use their Grandfather’s original recipe to create their delicious candies inside the white building with red trim located right along Scenic Drive in Knife River. Along with Pamela’s husband, Dennis, and her son, Andy, (the fourth generation) fresh candies have been made daily since 2007 to be enjoyed by visitors and locals alike at the Knife River location.
It is hard to miss the little shop as your drive along, assuming you’re able to take your eye off of beautiful Lake Superior long enough to notice what’s right across the street. The shop is bright, cheerful, and will remind you of a simpler time. Tasting one of their Caramels or Turtles might just bring back some childhood memories. Perhaps grab some Fudge and English Toffees and step outside to enjoy your treats while watching a ship sail across Lake Superior heading to the Duluth harbor or take a hike on the Bear Trail. What more could you want? Heading on to locations further north? Buy some Air Crunch to enjoy during the drive.
All of the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen’s sweets are made using Grade AA butter, real whipping cream, and quality chocolate in-house. They use old-fashioned candy-making techniques including hand-stirring in copper kettles, using marble tables for Brittles, and hand-dipping Chocolates. They also offer Caramel Apples, Nutty Ice Cream Bars, and much more. Phew… that’s a lot of delicious sweets!
So take a moment, slow things down, and make a stop at the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen on your next trip up to the North Shore. You will find the quaint shop at 223 Scenic Drive in Knife River. You can get there by taking the Scenic Drive from Duluth (what we recommend) or turn onto Central Ave off of the Highway 61 expressway if you’d rather avoid the slower drive. Open seasonally. Be sure to check out the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen website and connect with them on Facebook for more information and pictures of their amazing confections.
We’ll leave you this week with a great video of a group of school children visiting Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen and learning some of the history of the company and making some hand-dipped Caramel Apples. A film by Frank Sanders.
The North Shore Winery and the Sawtooth Mountain Cider House are a must stop on anyone’s journey up the North Shore. It is located just off Highway 61 on Ski Hill Road near Lutsen and offers a unique experience for area visitors and locals alike.
The winery was built in 2015 and opened in 2016 by owners, Chuck and Kim Corliss, who have been interested in all things wine (vineyards, wine making, tasting, etc.) for many, many years. In addition to the couple learning about wine through many of their life experiences, Chuck was also trained as a sommelier. In 2017 fellow North Shore lovers, Jeremy and Mary Hanson joined the Corliss’ as business partners to help with the day-to-day operations for the growing business.
The winery and cider house make a variety of red and white wines with grapes from California and Minnesota. The rotating flavors of ciders are created from Minnesota apples, raspberries grown on the winery property and Caribou Cream maple syrup from Lutsen. When visiting, ask to take a tour to see the wine making process including fermentation tanks, bottling equipment, and the new barrel room used to store wines for up to 18 months.
An on-site tasting room is the perfect place to relax for an afternoon of wine sipping during the summer months or after a sunny winter day on the slopes. In addition to the warm, welcoming atmosphere that the owners have created inside, you’ll likely find a fire crackling outside to gather around.
The winery is located at 202 Ski Hill Road, Lutsen. To get there from Lutsen drive west on Highway 61 for 1.5 miles. Turn right (away from Lake Superior) onto Ski Hill Road. The winery will be on the right side about a half a mile down the road.
Take a drive up the winding Caribou Trail just north of Lutsen and you’ll find yourself surrounded by large, mature maple trees. With its cold nights and warm(er) afternoons in the early spring, this area is the ideal location for a maple syrup farm. So it’s no surprise that Lutsen is home to a large maple syrup company who is working hard to produce some of the best organic maple syrup you’ll ever try!
Started in 1996, The Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Company tapped their first tree and would quickly grow into a massive operation. In the 2019 season they tapped over 24,000 maple trees which collectively produced 312,000 gallons of sap. This sounds like a lot, but once compressed and boiled down, the operation yielded an impressive, but sizable smaller, 7,800 gallons of maple syrup. Along with their retail partner, Wild Country Maple Syrup, the final product is bottled and delivered to restaurants, repackagers, and retail outlets in Minnesota and beyond.
The Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Company started out and remains a family owned and operated business. Chris Cordes, his sister Kirstin van den Berg, and her husband Greg Nichols currently operate, maintain, and produce the maple syrup. The actual harvest and production season is rather short- only 6 weeks in March and April most years- but during that time they work countless hours ensuring the operation goes smoothly and their maple syrup is of top quality. During the off season they maintain the trees, the taps, and the lines, and count down the days until the next harvest begins.
I had the opportunity to take the drive up the Caribou Trail and see the farm first hand on a warm day in late March, shortly after the sap started to flow, to learn how maple syrup is made. The sun was shining brightly on a cloudless day and over two feet of snow still blanketed the ground, but my truck made it easily down the gravel road to the property. In the trees you could see their labor of love- thousands of trees and miles of tubing connecting the taps and weaving it’s way into the main sugar house for processing. You can only imagine how much time, energy, and work goes into tapping and maintaining each tree and each line year after year, as operation grow to include more trees each season. Especially when you consider that the area can get buried in four feet, or more, of snow every winter.
I saw the retail store first. A quaint little log cabin that looks straight out of the stories of original settlers on the Gunflint Trail. The bottling barn is next to that- the place where the Wild Country Maple Syrup folks have their operations. However, it was the large building in the back, the sugar house, that I came to see.
I was first greeted by Lucy, the black retriever mix dog that protect the sugar house from unwanted visitors. She’s large but gentle and not-so-great at her job. I got more requests for a pet than a warning to stay away. Greg greeted me at the door and we got straight to business. The stainless steel boiler is quite the sight to see! Kept so clean it literally sparkled. Quiet on the day that I visited as it was still early in the collection season and there wasn’t enough sap for a boil. Next, Greg and Kirstin showed me the holding tanks. Going in I knew the farm collected hundreds of thousands of gallons of sap, but I couldn’t truly visualize how much that was until I was one of the tanks filled to the brim. Kirstin showed me the smaller tanks- just 1700-2300 gallons- as well as how the sap makes its way from the lines outside into an extractor that then releases the sap into the holding tanks. Later, Greg took me up to the two larger tanks- which hold 4,500 and 4,800 gallons. The massive size of the tanks show just how much sap is required to create a small amount of syrup. You need 40 gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of syrup. All that sap takes up a lot of room!
From the holding tanks they condense the sap down through a reverse osmosis system that reduces the amount of water in the sap. From there it goes into the boiler and gets condensed down even further, until it comes out in the form you recognize as maple syrup. They put the syrup into barrels and from there it gets distributed out, mostly to Wild Country Maple Syrup who bottles it and sells it, although they also distribute whole barrels to restaurants and other retailers.
I left the farm having learned a lot about the syrup-making process and being extremely impressed with the entire operation at The Sawtooth Mountain Syrup Company. I want to give a big thanks to Greg and Kirstin for taking the time out of their day to show me around. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, the sugar house isn’t open to the general public so this was a one-of-a-kind tour. However, the retail shop and the property are open to the public. Wild Country Maple Syrup coordinates the tours so contact them if you’re interested in seeing the property- it is incredibly beautiful and worth the trip! Check it out in the fall to see the leaf change at its best. If you just want to get some maple syrup straight from the source you can head up there to enjoy the serene drive and pick some up. I highly recommend adding this to your list of things to do during your next trip to Lutsen.
Check out the video below as Greg shows us around the sugar house and we get a glimpse into the life of a maple syrup farmer.
There are many things Grand Marais is known for. Being America’s Coolest Small Town,being a vibrant art community, a mecca for those wanting to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, and The Big Lake.
When I say “The Big Lake”, I, of course, mean Lake Superior. However, “The Big Lake” can also now mean the quaint little artsy store located on 1st Ave in downtown Grand Marais.
The Big Lake opened up in May of 2018 with the goal of being an affordable shop for art and handcrafted items. You can find jewelry, pottery, ceramics, and even a line of beautiful greeting cards here.
Owner Abby Tofte wanted a place where a family could come in and be able to afford a piece for their home or a children’s room. A place where a young couple could create a dream nursery for a new baby at a price that wouldn’t scare new parents away. Many of the pieces have a child/infant theme to them, like Shawna Gilmore’s “Giants in a Strange Land” series. There’s also children’s books and clothing, making The Big Lake the place to visit for a unique, custom gift for your next baby shower.
The adults are not left out, however. The Big Lake is now the exclusive retailer for Hannah Palma Ceramics in Grand Marais. These bowls, mugs, and other ceramics are quickly becoming synonymous with sipping coffee on the Lake Superior shoreline in Grand Marais. There’s also several lines of jewelry, including Seventh & Stone from Two Harbors, MN. A variety of more adult artwork, screen prints, candles, and other handmade works round out the beautiful variety of products offered.
While Abby enjoys featuring some local and regional artists, there are already several places in Grand Marais where you can find such works. Instead, Abby stocks The Big Lake with pieces that create the feeling of The Big Lake (as in, Lake Superior) and the feeling people get when visiting this area. This means featuring artists like Minnesotan Adam Turman whose pieces capture the feel of Minnesota and Wisconsin life, and also Jahna Vashti, an artist from Oregon whose whimsical forest scenes will be familiar to Minnesotans. From realistic artwork to more whimsical pieces, you are sure to find what you are looking for at The Big Lake.
Be sure to stop by during your next trip to Grand Marais. The Big Lake is located at 12 1st Ave West in downtown Grand Marais. Can’t make it up to shop? No worries! Shop online on The Big Lake’s website. You can also connect with The Big Lake on Facebook and check them out on Instagram.
Where the trail ends your voyage begins…
That is the slogan for the Voyageur Canoe Outfitters located at the end of the Gunflint Trail about 60 miles northwest of Grand Marais, MN. If you are planning to venture into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, whether on a day trip or a month-long adventure, you need the right gear and most visitors get that gear from one of the area’s many outfitters. Voyageur Canoe Outfitters is one such place where you can rent a boat for a few hours or a complete outfitting package for a month long trip into the BWAC.
Located on Saganaga Lake, one of our personal favorite lakes for starting your Boundary Waters trip, Voyageur Canoe Outfitters has been helping explorers plan their adventures for over 25 years. When it comes to the Boundary Waters, they know their stuff and can help you plan your trip and prepare for low-impact camping in this pristine wilderness area.
Owners Mike and Sue Prom, whom you may remember from our feature on the Voyageur Brewing Company, are Gunflint Trail residents, having moved to the area in 1993. They became familiar with the area and opened Voyageur Canoe Outfitters to help visitors enjoy the beautiful setting that they had grown to love. Their love and passion for the Boundary Waters area is evident from the moment you step onto the Voyageur Outfitter property. The setting is peaceful and well-kept. The canoes are clean and organized and the enthusiastic staff is ready to help with whatever you may need.
So whether you plan to head into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for an extensive period of time, or just want to rent a canoe for your stay in one of our Gunflint Trail vacation rentals, we recommend checking out Voyageur Canoe Outfitters for all of your outdoor adventure needs.
Contact information for Voyageur Canoe Outfitters can be found on their website. Also be sure to connect with Voyageur Canoe Outfitters on Facebook and subscribe to their YouTube channel called The Boundary Waters Blog. And if our series on the Gunflint Trail has left you wanting to learn more about this amazing wilderness area, check out the Boundary Waters Blog, maintained and written by Sue Prom. It’s full of great articles on the happenings up the Gunflint Trail and in the Boundary Waters.
If you have intentions of crossing the U.S./Canadian border in the future, you’ll want to make sure you keep Ryden’s Border Store on your radar for two reasons: one is for its location and the second is because of the goods the store offers.
Ryden’s Border Store has been a family owned business since 1947 and is located only a half mile from the US/Canadian border and five miles north of Grand Portage. Though it is close to the border, when you visit you’ll feel like you’re a world away from everything else.
The store offers the essentials such as food and gas. You can also find souvenirs and gifts along with a Duty-Free shop. They specialize in a Parcel service, money exchange, and sell world famous jerky (which you can order online if you’re not up for making the trip). Their parcel service starts at $3 for packages under 40lbs. If Ryden’s does not have it, “you’re being too picky”.
“The Meeting Place in Grand Marais’, the Blue Water Cafe, has been sitting at the corner of Wisconsin Street and 1st Ave West since the 1970s. Prior to that, the building has always been a popular eatery in Grand Marais.
Longtime residents and visitors of Grand Marais may recall that Tony’s Eat, a small eatery with just a few stools at a counter, started the building’s life back in the 1940s. Though small, Tony’s Eat was incredibly popular, starting the trend of the site being home to a series of successful restaurants.
In the 1950s, it was known as Du Nord. As Du Nord, the restaurant grew as an addition built onto the original building allowed for a larger kitchen and more dining space.
In the 1960s, it was known as the El Ray Cafe. A remodel of the entire building updated the decor to include booths.
Finally, in the 1970s, the cafe was purchased by Micheal and Sharon Rusten, who also owned Cascade Lodge at the time, and the name was changed to Blue Water Cafe. In 1985 the restaurant was expanded to include a second level, known as the Upper Deck, to increase seating even more as the popularity of Blue Water grew.
The restaurant changed hands a few times before being purchased by Dan and Melodee Riddle in 2005. Since then, the Riddles have made a few changes to the restaurant, including a recent remodel to the exterior of the property, and closing down food service in the Upper Deck and converting the space into a vacation rental. Some things, though, have been kept the same. Booths still line the walls of the eatery where diners can enjoy historic photos of downtown Grand Marais and a large mural of Lake Superior.
Something they have also done, much to the delight of many locals, is purchasing the pie-making equipment and recipes from the now-closed Pie Place in 2018. They tweaked a few of the recipes to be unique to Blue Water Cafe and now have a nice list of delicious, fresh-baked pies available in the cafe. Their first signature pie, The Killer Berry Pie, is an incredible fruit pie sweetened with killer bee honey and topped with a granola topping. A must-try on your next visit to Blue Water Cafe.
Dan Riddle spends a lot of time searching for and concocting different pie recipes, looking for the next great pie to introduce to the Grand Marais community. Stay tuned as his ideas come to life and the pie offering at Blue Water Cafe grows.
In the meantime, swing on over to Blue Water Cafe and enjoy a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. They are open for all three meals during the peak summer season and then open for breakfast and lunch in the winter. Hours may vary, so be sure to check out their website for current hours and menu. Located in downtown Grand Marais, Blue Water Cafe sits just steps away from the Lake Superior shoreline and the Grand Marais Harbor. You can’t miss it.
Listen to our interview with Dan and Melodee Riddle on “The Pies of Grand Marais” episode of “Exploring the North Shore”:
On a cold December afternoon, we pulled into the parking lot of Chambers Grove Park in the Fond Du Lac/Gary/New Duluth area of Duluth. Duluth had recently received almost two feet of snow the weekend prior leaving behind massive snowbanks, and although the park sits on the St. Louis River right near the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, it wasn’t the beautiful scenery or the snow in the park we were there for. We were there to participate in Duluth’s newest guided sauna experience: Cedar and Stone Sauna.
Cedar and Stone Sauna is the brainchild of Justin Juntunen, a Duluth local of Finnish descent who had been raised on the culture of sauna his entire life. He wanted to bring this idea of sauna being a social experience, as it is in the Nordic traditions, to his community here in America. So, Justin set out to create a sauna experience unlike any that most living the US today have experienced. The result is an open and inviting guided sauna experience in a beautifully built sauna that has the ability to be moved around wherever it is needed.
On that day in mid-December, as we pulled into the parking lot, we were greeted by a beautiful trailer that strongly resembles that extremely popular tiny-home trend that has swept the nation. Alongside the modern trailer stood two gentlemen, each with their hands on a rope connected to buckets over their heads. As I maneuvered the car into the parking lot, they pulled on the ropes, dumping a bucketful of water on each of their heads. Not something you’re used to seeing outside in Minnesota in December.
What we were seeing was the end of a guided Cedar and Stone Sauna experience which was in the heart of its opening weekend. One of the men under the buckets was Justin and the other was someone who was there to experience sauna in its most traditional form, with a strong emphasis on the social and health benefits of sauna.
The sauna trailer is beautiful, to the point where I hate calling it a trailer because it’s so much more than that. Large (33 feet long with 11-foot ceilings), modern, bright, and welcoming. The front end is a lobby area of sorts. There’s a small check-in and retail area, a place to sit, hot tea to sip, and a cubbies to deposit your clothing once you’ve changed into your (required) swimsuit. The sauna area itself is spacious with two-tiered benches on either side of the wall, with the wood-fed stove in the middle of one side. At the front- floor to ceiling windows that allows those in the sauna to enjoy the incredible views of Chambers Grove Park (or wherever the sauna is at the time). Large windows also line either side of the sauna behind the benches. This is not a tiny little wood box as many pictures when asked to visualize a sauna space.
Justin explains that he wanted to start Cedar and Stone Sauna in order to introduce this idea of sauna and its benefits in a guided experience to Duluth (and beyond). Most Americans will only experience a sauna in a hotel or gym setting. Perhaps, even in their own homes, but he describes the way many do sauna as “competitive sauna”. Who can last the longest in the highest heat with the highest steam? What he aims to introduce is this experience where a group of friends, co-workers, families, or even strangers, come together and have a mutually beneficial sauna experience that emphasizes democracy when making changes to the current experience. Those in the sauna decide together if they want to add more steam, perhaps include essential oils in the steam, which oils to add, and when to stop adding steam. Making the environment safe and comfortable for all who are in it.
This is the experience that we were there to have. What I learned while saunaing during Cedar and Stone’s inaugural weekend was that sauna was far more than just a social experience- it has proven health benefits, as well.
During our interview with Justin (scroll down to play the Exploring the North Shore Podcast episode) he references a recent Mayo Clinic study titled “Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence” that tracked the health benefits of sauna bathing from a Nordic population over the course of 20 years. The study found that sauna bathing is “linked to a remarkable array of health benefits.” Justin explains that many experience short-term benefits after even one session in a sauna that includes the feeling of mental relaxation, physical relaxation, and skin benefits. Growing up in the sauna tradition Justin identified that sauna would leave him feeling relaxed after a stressful day, and also helped him sleep better at night. Benefits that many will find valuable. To get these benefits, Justin explains that sauna is to be enjoyed in a high temperature, lower humidity environment. Water is not to be added to the heater, creating steam, in fast and continuous ways, but rather added slowly over a longer period of time.
Admittedly, Justin was absolutely correct in describing the sauna experience most Americans had. Growing up I only went into saunas in hotels, usually during my brother’s hockey tournaments, in settings where the sauna was being bombarded by children who sit add steam so rapidly, it hardly stopped steaming before more water was added on. We’d stay in as long as we could and then dash out and jump into the pool. I had little concept of how sauna could truly be experienced and how I could benefit from it. So I was excited to experience sauna how it was meant to be experienced and was able to enjoy an hour-long stay at Cedar and Stone Sauna and really embrace how incredible I felt after the experience.
During our time at Cedar and Stone Sauna, we were joined by two friends- one of whom, who just happened to be Ericka of SUPerior Paddle, had visited the sauna the day prior and was back, this time with a friend. We were also later joined by someone who had simply been driving past and joined us on a whim. This is how Justin envisioned it. Strangers joining each other in a safe environment, experiencing sauna the way it was meant to be experienced.
On this day, it was an open group sauna day. Anyone could sign up for one of the ten slots for that hour, and join in. Justin also recognizes that this idea of sauna as an open, social, potentially mixed-gender experience may not be appealing to everyone, which is why he offers a variety of different sauna experiences so everyone can find the experience that is right for them. Sunrise Saunas tend to be quieter, allowing you to focus and relax before starting your day. Women-Led Sunday Sauna is an experience for women, led by women. Private sessions would allow for a couple, single-family, group of friends, or co-worker group to enjoy the sauna experience together in a more private setting. You can come for a day or purchase an annual pass if you feel sauna is something you want to include in your weekly or even daily routine.
While the sauna was parked at Chambers Grove Park in Duluth when we were enjoying it, it is portable. Justin has plans to bring it all over Duluth and the upper midwest so others can enjoy the experiences he offers. His hopes is to do long term partnership with Duluth-area hotels as well as bring the trailer to different places in the area for special events.
So whether you have experienced a true Nordic sauna experience or have only ever experienced the “competitive sauna” popular in America today, Cedar and Stone Sauna is for you. Justin brings his knowledge and history with sauna into a relaxing and inviting experience that also has incredible health benefits. If you live too far from Duluth and can’t travel to the sauna’s location, Justin is also starting to offer