Restaurant flourishes in small North Dakota city
LORAINE, N.D. (AP) — Tucked away among grain bins in a little known, remote community is a cozy steakhouse so off the beaten path that half the charm of eating there is finding it.
With a name as unusual as The Naked Moose, the restaurant capitalized on the curiosity factor when it opened on what passes for Main Street in Loraine on Oct. 17, 2015. It then tantalized customers with the food to keep them coming back and bringing their friends. Approaching its two-year anniversary, the restaurant serves up to a few hundred people every week and still gets customers finding it for the first time.
“We had dreams it would be like this at some point, but it happened really fast,” owner Dianne Lielke said of the restaurant’s success. Lielke, a native of nearby Mohall, operates the restaurant with her fiance and head chef Shane Houglum.
“It usually takes two years to catch on. Here it took three days. We had no idea there was that many people out there looking for somewhere like this,” Houglum told the Minot Daily News . “It’s amazing where we are at in this sparsely populated area in the middle of nowhere, how many people go out at 9 o’clock to eat.”
People have come by motorcycle, car, truck and airplane. Loraine is one of the few places can you land a small, two-seater airplane to enjoy a steak dinner.
Lielke grew up in Mohall, where she helped out at the family’s Burger Shack restaurant. She went on to run restaurants in Minneapolis, Arizona and Seattle. Working in Detroit Lakes, Minn., she met Houglum, who had cooked for a number of Detroit Lakes and Minneapolis restaurants since 1982.
“We decided to come out here. She wanted to spend some time with her family and I drove truck for a service company in the oil field,” Houglum said.
Their family encouraged them to get into the restaurant business locally. A building in Loraine that had been a bar for a number of years presented an opportunity. Stepping into the 1950s decor was like walking back in time, though, Houglum said. They remodeled to reflect a woodsier theme.
Little work was needed on the exterior, but Lielke said there were some small glitches, such as water pipeline problems. She came to work one day to find her Loraine neighbors with a backhoe fixing the pipeline as a courtesy.
“We have had amazing support from the area,” she said.
Initially, Lielke and Houglum worked the business themselves.
“We thought he would still drive truck,” Lielke said. “We didn’t expect it to explode like it did right away. The truck driving went quite quick.”
It was an exhausting task for two people, so they brought in Kaylee Alexander of Sherwood in July 2016. Bringing her experience in bartending in Minot, she plays an integral role in the business, particularly at the bar.
The restaurant now employs six people on weekends. Family members contribute decorating, cleaning, cooking and bookwork skills.
Lielke describes The Naked Moose as fine dining in a casual atmosphere. The small building that houses the restaurant is itself fairly unremarkable.
“You drive up and you look at the place and you don’t expect what you get,” Houglum said.
Inside, the owners have created a warm, comfortable atmosphere with a fireplace and a friend’s outdoor photography. The restaurant holds 47 diners, or about five times Loraine’s population. Groups are both welcomed and common. The restaurant has hosted motorcycle clubs, class reunions, family events and business meetings.
Lielke and Houglum don’t plan to expand their dining because it’s the intimacy that creates the ambiance.
“You don’t really want to ruin what you have going,” Houglum said.
“We are all about customer service. Bring in more tables and you lose that,” Alexander said.
The remodeling of the original bar into a restaurant didn’t increase the size of the tiny kitchen, but Houglum has adapted to the small space. A talented cook, Houglum lists steaks as his specialty, but Alexander recommends his soups, and people come regardless of what is on the menu.
The restaurant serves burgers and appetizers Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Thursday nights feature Mexican fare and weekends are full-dinner steak nights. There are dinner specials throughout the week that diners can check out in advance on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The best way to make a reservation, although not required, or inquire ahead about seating is on the Facebook page.
Lielke said she gets asked all the time about the name of the restaurant. She said there’s no great story behind it. There weren’t moose in the Mohall area when she grew up there, but as they have moved into northern North Dakota, she had it in her mind that if she opened a restaurant, it would have moose in the title. In this case, The Naked Moose.
“It’s simply good marketing,” she said. Obviously, she was on to something because T-shirts and mugs have flown off the shelves.
An unusual name and location have been successful in drawing people the 55 miles from Minot as well as from Minot Air Force Base, Canada and other communities in the region.
In July, The Naked Moose hosted a ribfest that drew 12 teams and more than 400 visitors. Plans already are being made for an even bigger event next year.
Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com