Paper cups in, plastic foam out at McDonald’s

Starbucks and Caribou Coffee uses them. Dunkin’ Donuts is trying them out. Now heavy hitter McDonald’s is going green with its coffee drinks.

Call it an Earth Day victory.

The mammoth fast food chain is replacing its plastic foam cups for its espressos, mochas and hot chocolates with paper cups at its 14,000 McCafe restaurants that serve the hot drinks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The company says the switch is to be more environmentally conscious and to cut down on trash costs, according to the Journal.

McDonald’s has been using paper cups, double-walled for insulation, at 2,000 restaurants on the West Coast since 2012. Now it’s expanding the practice to the Midwest and parts of the East Coast, the Journal said.

I’m partial to McDonald’s caramel mochas myself. So far, I haven’t encountered the switch to paper in Duluth yet. But I’m looking forward to enjoying the hot drink without the guilt.

International Paper Inc. is among the paper cup manufacturers responding to a rebounding demand for paper cups for hot drinks. It’s coming up with new cup designs and is already producing a fully bio-degradable cup with a plant-based lining.

Polystyrene foam (the correct term)  is bad for the Earth because it isn’t bio-degradable, and recyclers are hard to find. And when it breaks into pieces in landfills, animals mistake it for food.

So embrace the paper cup… but don’t forget to recycle the plastic lid.

Taking beer to the cleaners

Fitger’s Brewhouse has a new product. And it’s not another craft beer.

Besides growlers and Brewhouse T-shirts, the popular Duluth brewpub now sells beer soap made out of its own brews.

Big on supporting local farmers and sustainability, the Brewhouse already gets its beef from its own local farm near Beaver Bay whose herd eats their spent brewery grain.

Now it has partnered with CMT Farm in Superior for handmade beer soap and lip balm.

The soap creator, Carolyn Jones, uses goat milk from her own goats and other natural ingredients such as ground apricot seeds besides beer made at the Brewhouse.

Not sure if there’s also ale in the lip balm, though.


Helping retirees with start-ups

You’d think retiring baby boomers were just itching to get back to work.

This week, the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Center for Economic Development held a workshop geared to baby boomers who are retiring from traditional jobs but want to start their own businesses.

Now comes the University of Wisconsin-Superior with a similar workshop.

UWS’s wiill offer “Encore Entrepreneurship: Essentials for Starting a Business After 50,” on Wednesday, April 16 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College Conference Center, 600 N. 21st St. in Superior.

The event costs $20 and is open to the public.

The workshop is for anyone age 50 and older who is looking for new opportunities in retirement, according to Julianne Raymond, director of the UWS’s Small Business Development Center which is presenting the event with the Center for Continuing Education.

“Many retirees have an idea for a business, but not the resources to move forward,” Raymond explained in a statement. “The workshop is helpful for entrepreneurs who are unemployed or need to supplement their income.”

The workshop will cover ways to test the viability of an idea, getting started, financing options and managing the risk. Sessions also will include information on networking, creating a lean business plan and taking advantage of the free business counseling available.

To register, call (715) 394-8351 or visit and click on “Full Calendar” under events, then on “Continuing Education Events.” Door prizes will be given to the first 25 people who register. Walk-ins are also welcome on the day of the event.

It’s a beer dinner showdown

We’ve all heard of fancy dinners with wines specially chosen for each course. But beer dinners?

Grandma’s Saloon & Grill has been holding them once a year for six years now. They’re multi-course meals with a specialty beer to complement each course.

“I can’t believe nobody’s ever written about it,” said Grandma’s President Brian Daugherty who has  talked me into more than a few food-related stories over the years.

Well, I thought to myself, maybe if the DNT still had a food section…

But, I got to admit, this year’s Brewmaster Dinner  on Wednesday does appear to be a standout, pitting North Shore brews against South Shore brews for each gourmet course.

Dale Kleinschmidt of Lake Superior Brewing in Duluth and Bo Belanger of South Shore Brewery in Ashland will battle it out as hosts of the dinner.

“It’s a super cool culinary event,” Daughtery said. “It fits right into the microbrew trend that is exploding in Duluth.”

He described the two brewmasters as arch rivals who are greatly respected by all in the business.

I’m not sure about the arch rivals part. But they are, indeed, well respected in the local craft brewing industry.

The Best of Both Shores Brewmaster Dinner will be held beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Grandma’s expanded Hillside Room. It’s limited to 60 diners. Cost is $54.99 per person which includes tax and gratuity. Call (218) 727-4192 or stop in for tickets. But hurry, the cut off time is 5 p.m. Monday.

Here’s  quick rundown of the five courses:

Appetizer: Citrus ginger shrimp skewer with creole mustard sauce. Served with Lake Superior Brewing’s Kayak Kolsch and South Shore’s Inland Sea Pilsner.

Soup: Creamy kohlrabi soup served with Lake Superior’s Mesabi Red Ale and South Shore Red Lager.

Salad: Tuscan roasted vegetable salad topped with spicy, sweet almonds. Served with Lake Superior’s Special Ale and South Shore’s Northern Lights Cream Ale.

Entree: Marinated sirloin with creole risotto and glazed green beans with bacon. Served with Lake Superior’s Sir Duluth Oatmeal Stout and South Shore’s Rhoades Scholar Stout.

Dessert: Gingerbread cake with stout butter cream and vanilla bean creme anglaise. Served with Lake Superior’s Deep Water Black IPA and South Shore’s Nut Brown Ale.


Starbucks opens Friday at BlueStone

This tip just came in from a reliable source — the developer himself.

The much anticipated Starbucks will open Friday morning (March 21) at the Shops at BlueStone in Duluth. The opening, expected in mid-morning, follows the openings of Chilly Billy’s Frozen Yogurt and Waxing the City earlier this month.

The new two-building retail complex along Woodland Avenue is Phase II of BlueStone Commons, a mixed-use development along Woodland Avenue adjacent to the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Starbucks wasn’t expected to open until late March or early April, so its opening is a pleasant surprise. Still to come to the Shops at BlueStone are Sports Clips for Men, Northern Communities Credit Union and Qdoba Mexican Grill.

Duluth’s Electric Fetus won’t close

The upcoming  closure of the Electric Fetus store in St. Cloud is not putting the Duluth store at risk.

Quite the contrary.

According the company’s website, the May 23 St. Cloud closure will allow the company to concentrate its efforts on its stores in Minneapolis and Duluth, where planning and hiring are underway. The St. Cloud store has been open for 27 years.

“We’re looking forward to continuing what’s been an exciting and successful ride, in particular the last few years which have seen some record-setting sales and numbers we’ve not seen in two decades,” a company update said. “We will continue to adjust to best deliver to our customers and continue to strive to make our shopping experience unique and memorable.”

For the independent music and counter culture stores, that includes continuing to host events, in-store performances and launching locally focused programs.

With the St. Cloud store’s lease expiring this spring, it was the opportune time to reevaluate and plan for the future of Electric Fetus, the update said.

“It’s been incredible to be a part of the St. Cloud community and music scene for many years, and we have great and loyal customers who we will miss,” it said.


Jamar vs. ice dams

Roofers often take on snow and ice dam removal during winters like this. Especially for residential customers.

But this winter, the Jamar Co, has entered the icy arena with a focus on businesses.

The century-old, Duluth-based company does all sorts of specialty contracting work but its roofing jobs are the most visible. If there’s a big commercial roofing project going on in these parts, chances are it’s Jamar workers up there, pounding away.

But ice dam removal? That’s new.

Caleb Blomdahl, Jamar’s roofing service manager, explained the company typically remains moderately busy in winter. But this year, they couldn’t ignore the damage going on as more and more ice builds up on roofs of businesses.

“The roof leaks have been steady this year due to all of the snow and ice,” he said. “Several of the roof leaks we respond to are due to water not being able to drain off of the roof.”

Ignore the problem and it’ll just get worse when the weather warms and the snow and ice thaws and re-freezes over and over. So Jamar has started offering snow and ice removal, using steam to tackle the ice buildup.

Steaming is a safe and efficient way to remove the ice without causing damage to the roof, gutters and downspouts, he said.

It’s not a one-winter effort, either.

“We will offer this service every year going forward,” Blomdahl said.

Because each job is different, he says prices vary. For more information, call him at (218) 628-6120.


More offerings of bridal gowns

My story about the abrupt closure of Princess Bride of Duluth and follow-up reports about people coming forward with offerings of wedding dresses for brides-to-be left in a bind has generated more generosity.

More than 80 customers face losing down payments and aren’t likely to receive their ordered dresses.

Since a follow-up appeared in this blog on Monday and today’s Eh? column in the print edition, more people have come forward offering to donate their wedding dress to a deserving woman who can’t afford another dress.

But Brittany Robb has taken it further by setting up a Facebook page where people can connect with each other if they would like to donate a wedding dress or are in dire need of one.

Here is the link:

So from now on, please go to that page if you wish to donate a dress or are a Princess Bride customer with no dress and no refund.

But before I close the door on passing on the dress offers, I’ll list two more that came in:

April PIrsig of Duluth is willing to donate a size 14W strapless satin ivory pickup dress with champagne accents and a corset lace-up back. She bought it in 2012 at David’s Bridal. It comes with a matching jacket and veil. Reach her at

And Jennifer Stokes of Duluth is offering a size 6 (that’s fitted closer to a size 4) wedding gown. It has two wide, beaded straps that  form a V-shape in the back and has a long, beautifully-beaded train that bustles.

“I would be more than happy to donate it,” she wrote. “A wedding can be so expensive and to just lose money and maybe not be able to get another dress in time would be awful!”

Contact her by e-mailing:



Gowns offered to brides in bind

A story today in our Business Monday section about the abrupt closing of the Princess Bride shop has prompted three Duluth women to offer wedding dresses to brides-to-be who are apparently out their down payments and their gowns.

Nancy Zimmerman is offering up a never-worn size 8 wedding dress and veil purchased for her daughter in 2007 for $549 from David’s Bridal in Duluth.

Her daughter ended up not getting married then. And when she did marry last August she wanted a different dress.

“It’s brand new, never worn,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a beautiful, long white dress. I am willing to donate it to one of the girls.”

She described the dress as strapless with a puffy skirt and with a beaded and lacy bodice for a small, petite bride. It was altered so it might also fit a size 6 woman.

“There are some out there who may not be in a situation to buy another one,” Zimmerman said. “If I could donate a dress to one of those brides, I would love to.”

Call her at (218) 269-1384.

Michele Annala got married in December 2012 in her $1,300 Maggie Sottero “Harlow” gown purchased at Princess Bride, which she would like to donate to one of the brides.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful dress, and it would be my pleasure to give it to somebody who really truly needs it.” Annala said. “This would be the best thing I could do to help someone.”

It’s ivory in color with a gold undertone and features a strapless neckline, a slim A-line shape and Chantilly Lace. With a corset back, it’s adjustable for sizes 12 to 14.

“The dress is in excellent condition for someone who would like to have it,” she said.

Contact her by e-mail:

Patricia Lewis also was moved to action after reading the story with a dress she would like to loan to a bride in need.

“I have a cleaned, pressed, beautiful bridal gown in size 18 or 20 that I would like to give to one of them,” she said. “All I ask is that they clean and return it to me afterwards.”

It’s her backup dress for her upcoming wedding, purchased a couple of years ago. It’s an ivory satin gown with long sleeves, a full set and skirt with no train.

“There are young ladies who are the same size I am who don’t have the finances to get a replacement dress,” she said. “I want someone to feel pretty getting married. And if this is the way to help someone else, I would be more than happy to have it worn by someone else first.”

Call her at (218) 269-6999.

Again, these generous offers are only for brides-to-be who ordered their dresses from Princess Bride of Duluth, and who are now left in a bind with its recent filing for bankruptcy.


Eavesdropping at the DECC

I crashed the tourism conference at the DECC the other day. Ya, I walked right in to the Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference like I belonged there.

Hundreds in the hospitality and tourism industry around the state attended. I arrived as a big luncheon was breaking up and attendees were milling about. I wandered into the breakout session on industry trends and sat down, confident no one would notice — nor care — that I didn’t have a conference name tag. (I stopped short of throwing my name in the hat for prize drawings, however).

Before the session began, the young woman next to me chatted with the man on the other side of her.

Realizing she was a visitor to Duluth who was talking about Duluth, I not only eavesdropped but took notes.

So Radisson Hotel: this one’s for you.

“We’re staying at the Radisson,” she said excitedly. “They have this restaurant on top that goes around. We went there last night for drinks and went back this morning for breakfast. It’s pretty cool.”

Yes, Radisson, you’re revolving “top-of-the-Radisson,” JJ Astor Restaurant is cool. So is your modern-retro lobby furniture fit for a “Mad Men” set.

But back to the conference.

The session panelists included Anna Tanski of Visit Duluth. On the subject of how the tourism industry has changed since 2007, before the economic recession, she said that Duluth is different from a lot of Minnesota because it’s a leisure-driven destination and primarily a weekend one.

Since 2007, investments have been made in local hotels, new restaurants and at Spirit Mountain and other attractions, she noted.

“And we’re seeing now how these type of investments are paying off,” she said.

Another change is with travelers. They’re more savvy, because of the Internet and social media.

“Consumers expectations have increased,” Tanski said. “They can do so much research online. They’re more educated, more informed.”

Corporate travel isn’t a big part of Duluth tourism so the hit that sector took around the country during the recession didn’t hurt Duluth much, she said.

Since 2009, Duluth is seeing more trade shows come to town and room occupancy has increased. In 2013, it was up 13 percent, she said.

And the outlook for 2014?  Even better, she said.