DULUTH — The time-worn problem of where to eat a Northern Waters Smokehaus Cajun Finn has finally been solved.
The treasured Canal Park deli is moving from its petite corner shop of more than 20 years to a place with ample space for indoor tables and chairs, and it's even in the same building. Northern Waters will replace Amazing Grace Cafe and Grocery in the basement of the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, slated for an early summer opening.
Amazing Grace, another long-time Duluth institution, closed its doors last weekend. Northern Waters owner Eric Goerdt said spending time there as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard in the late 1990s is what inspired him to open his own shop in the historic building.
"Amazing Grace was a cool part of the community, and we want to bring some of that back," he said, shedding the cramped shop he said they outgrew in 2010 after appearing on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." Hordes of new customers found them, but they couldn't figure out how to serve sandwich seekers and fish counter shoppers at the same time. Newcomers who saw Northern Waters on TV were shocked by the tiny space and lack of seating, Goerdt said.
"We knew we weren't providing great service," Goerdt said. "Now, we can do that."
Since mid-pandemic, access has been even trickier. Customers have been ordering and picking up outside, even in the dead of winter, the display cases full of smoked meat, sausages and fish unavailable to customers to peruse.
The "five times larger" basement space is connected to the Smokehaus's processing and smoking rooms, putting the operation all on one floor. And no more shared lines for sandwich and deli orders. Cheese, freezer and smoked products will be separated, and more importantly, staff will have room to talk with customers about food.
"We kind of feel like we haven't been whole for a long time," Goerdt said. "We're very excited to open our doors to the community again, and to be in our home building, I am ecstatic."
Goerdt hopes at some point to host live music and events like Amazing Grace did; things the current space doesn't allow. With the newfound kitchen real estate, soups and maybe more hot sandwiches, fish and charcuterie boards will roll out, but it will remain a quick service shop, likely with longer hours.
Amazing Grace, beloved for its cozy patio and nooks, open-mic nights and homemade bread, ended its nearly three decade run because of effects from the pandemic, owner Connor Riley said in a statement. It was first opened by Chip Stewart and Doug Zaun (husband to Mayor Emily Larson) and later run by Stewart's partner and Riley's mother, Marcie Stoyke, after Stewart died in 2009.