Liberty’s Restaurant in downtown Red Wing marks its 45th anniversary in October, but the eatery has a more immediate reason to celebrate.
It is reopening Thursday, a month after it was forced to close when an alleged drunken driver fleeing police smashed through its front door and caused part of a historic building that houses the restaurant to collapse.
Once the shock and sadness wore off, civic leaders, residents and friends jumped in to help save Liberty’s, a favorite of residents living in the southeastern Minnesota river town. They held a benefit concert in Central Park, and hundreds of people collectively contributed more than $23,000 to a fundraiser coordinated by the Downtown Main Street Red Wing program. Others bought bricks that were saved from the rubble and screen-painted with the word “Liberty’s.”
Local businesses did their small part, too. A few sold Liberty’s popular Bloody Mary mix and house salad dressing.
Proceeds from the fundraisers and sales went to Liberty’s owner, Doug Noreen, his 51 employees and five tenants of apartments above the restaurant who were forced to move when the building was damaged.
“Liberty’s is a place where Red Wing comes together,” Mayor Sean Dowse said. “During this time when some things feel out of control, this was something close to home where people could pitch in and help. The Noreen family and Liberty’s have provided so much for our community, and we want to make sure they and our other restaurants and businesses survive and later thrive as we move into the future.”
The generosity has touched Noreen, who owns the restaurant that was started by his parents in 1975 and has been at 3rd and Plum streets since the mid-1980s.
“It has been overwhelmingly positive,” Noreen said. “Everybody has been so supportive to get us open.”
The restaurant where many celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and watch football games and have brunch, abruptly shut down about 10 p.m. on Sept. 2 when an SUV crashed through the front door and left a gaping hole in the building. Part of the building that dates to 1886 collapsed.
“When I arrived that evening, it looked like a bomb had gone off,” said Megan Tsui, executive director of Downtown Main Street, which works to preserve the city’s historic buildings. “I was devastated to see the damage one car could do to a structure that was 130 years old.”
The driver, Donovan Plank, 28, of Red Wing, was charged with drunken driving, reckless driving, trespassing and failure to obey traffic control devices, according a criminal complaint filed in Goodhue County District Court.
For days, debris littered the intersection where Hwys. 58 and 63 meet. Tsui feared that one of the city’s largest and oldest buildings might be lost, but she was never worried about losing Liberty’s.
“Liberty’s is a strong fixture in our town and I assumed that they would rebuild and do what it took to reopen,” said Tsui, who set up the online fundraiser on the night of the crash. “It’s an important place of connection for our community.”
The front corner of the restaurant has been demolished, and scaffolding and plastic shroud the exterior of the building. Work to rebuild the former front entrance will take until next year, but the good news, Noreen said, is that building restoration companies will be able to fix the damage with bricks and windows that match the rest of the building. Noreen said he wants to bring the building closer to its original design. He’s asking for anybody with pictures to share them.
Noreen and several employees spent this week applying fresh paint and restocking coolers with ingredients, including those needed for the restaurant’s signature dish: pizza.
Liberty’s isn’t the only reopening happening. Three of the five residents were able to move back into their apartments last week, and a hair salon that operates in the building also has gotten permission to reopen.