Posted 4/12/16 (Tue)
By Cecile Wehrman
Flames shot through the roof of Mr. K’s Steakhouse, Lounge and Bottleshop, even as a passerby reported the blaze around 5:30 a.m. Thursday.
“When we arrived the roof was entirely in flames,” said Crosby Fire Chief Travis Running.
With hardly a family in the county without fond memories of a wedding dance or other special occasion held at Mr. K’s over the past three decades, news of the devastation spread quickly on social media.
“There was no chance we were going to save it,” said Running, so the efforts of the approximately 12 volunteer firefighters on the scene shifted toward protecting surrounding structures.
By 10:30 a.m., two deputy fire marshals, one from Minot and one from Dickinson, were on scene to try to determine the cause of the fire. According to Running, their work was to include observing the burn pattern, which might indicate an area where the fire began.
“To us, it’s undetermined,” said Running. “There’s no part that looks like it was burning longer than another.”
There were no injuries but the building is a total loss.
It could be a couple of weeks before the fire marshal reports on a possible cause.
Little to salvage
“We saved five bottles of Black Velvet,” Running said, and managed to retrieve a cash machine belonging to First National Bank, as well as a safe belonging to business owners Greg and Lori Wishart.
The money inside the cash machine, said bank employee LuAnn Unhjem, “is all crinkly and crunchy, but you can tell it’s money.”
Greg Wishart was on the scene at mid-morning Thursday, following along as investigators began to pick their way through the remains of the building.
Besides missing the daily routine that has included a work day stretching from early afternoon until 1 a.m., Greg said Saturday he most regrets the loss of a coffee cup with his grandkids’ pictures on it.
“Everybody knew to handle Grandpa’s coffee cup gently,” said Lori.
Now their life and livelihood is altered forever.
“From morning until night, every day, we knew what we were going to do,” said Lori.
“That’s been our life,” added Greg.
“You feel kind of lost,” Lori said.
Though the business was insured, it is too soon to know how and if the Wisharts can move forward to rebuild.
“Everybody’s been asking ‘What are you going to do?’ I don’t know,” Lori said. “We’re just kind of stunned.”
The couple met at college in Wahpeton where both obtained training in food service management. They came to Crosby in 1980, when Greg began cooking at Mr. K’s. At that time, Lori’s brother, Doug Kalmbach, was leasing the restaurant from owners Don and MaryAnn Kinnison.
Prior to taking the job, said Greg, a native of New Rockford, “I thought Minot was the end of North Dakota.”
Greg and Lori’s association with the business actually predates their 34 “glorious” years of marriage, said Greg.
They made Crosby home, raising two children and building a tradition that kept people coming back to Mr. K’s for special occasion catering, banquets and family gatherings.
“This would have been the 36th year for Mother’s Day,” said Greg, but many other groups, such as the Northwest Chorus, relied on Mr. K’s for buffet meals.
Then there were the annual visitors for the threshing bee in the summer, former residents who came home to visit family and hunters in the fall.
“One of the things I’m going to miss is seeing the people,” said Greg.
The steakhouse was known for his specially-seasoned prime rib, hand-breaded jumbo shrimp and homemade salads.
The Wisharts purchased the business in 1996.
“We had a big party lined up for June,” Lori said, to mark their 20-year ownership milestone.
Running said the wind Thursday, was in favor of the Golden Hub Motel, if not for Mr. K’s, the north entry of which stood only 20 feet or so from the motel’s main entry.
“We took a defensive stance to make sure we were going to save the motel,” said Running.
The wind took most of the smoke out of town.
For the motel to escape, even without smoke damage, said Motel Manager Clare Sarasin, “was a blessing within a horrible situation.”