I love Trail Center on the Gunflint Trail for many reasons. The big metal malt cups, the Fungi sandwich, the world’s smallest ice cream sundae, and the new artery-clogging but delectable, deep-fried bacon. I also like the tasty Camp Chow samples on the counter and the funky T-shirts and clothing items offered for sale.
But I think what I like best about Trail Center is the attitude of the place. Everyone is welcome. The décor says it all, from framed Royal Canadian Mounted Police posters to pink-glitter slippers; from campaign posters of many different county elections to the big bumper-sticker covered log chairs, it is clear the opinions of the owner are all over the board.
Sarah Hamilton and her “crew” welcome everyone, local or visitor; cross country skier or snowmobiler; hiker or ATVer; paddler or pontooner. As long as you are accepting of others, you will find yourself at home at Trail Center.
Chuck and I visited Trail Center recently with our wonderful Indiana and Minneapolis relatives. We were shocked by a line of people waiting to enter the dining room. We’re spoiled. Most of the time the restaurant signs says “Seat Yourself.”
But we didn’t mind. There are a lot of interesting things to look at on the little store shelves and of course Camp Chow samples to try. We weren’t in a hurry, we were just riding around on the Trail to give our relatives the Cook County experience.
We were seated within a few minutes and ordered shakes and malts.
The Trail Center staff was friendly and helpful as always, but they did look a bit frazzled. As we were waiting, I reread the note on the back of the Trail Center table top drink menu.
The note offers “a little food for thought while you wait for yours.” It goes on to remind visitors that Trail Center is a small restaurant in a small community that serves as few as 40 people per day during the off season (November through April). Amazingly—and the reason we had to wait—those numbers can reach 500 during the summer months.
The note continues, “We are sorry you have to wait, but expanding our restaurant to service these few months would put us out of business.”
Finally, in Trail Center style, the note finishes by saying, “We are very glad you are here and hope you can relax and enjoy us. We enjoy you.”
I think the Trail Center notice should be painted on a billboard and set up at the county line. Although Trail Center is the only business I know that verbalizes this frustration, there are many others who feel the same.
The entire county has the same problem. Most of our stores, gas stations and restaurants have a solid core staff year round. In the shoulder seasons, those of us who live here year round are able to waltz in just about any place at any time and receive almost instant and attentive service.
But then the opening of fishing comes and slowly and steadily, traffic increases and lines get longer at the checkout counters. Our quiet little community gets overrun with vacationers and by the 4th of July, the pace in our local businesses is frantic.
Most of the time we don’t mind. If visitors are happy—as they should be on vacation—and treat the service community kindly, it can be fun trying to keep up with it all. Servers dance between tables and joke with customers. Gift shop owners get shoppers through the line with utmost speed, smiling and chatting. As long as people are patient and cheerful, it all works.
That is why it would be nice to have the Trail Center note printed far and wide. As summer winds down, we could all use the reminder— relax and enjoy!
I don’t care if you’re black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Simple as that.
Robert Michaels MD