Local restaurant adds some Cloquet history to its walls

Carmen’s Bar and Restaurant is taking advantage of the shutdown to remodel and decorate its walls with newspaper printing plates the owners found in another building.

Zach Zezulka, a co-owner of Carmen's Bar and Restaurant had the idea of using old newspaper plates to decorate some of the walls of the Cloquet watering hole. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal

Restaurants and bars across Minnesota have felt the pain of the Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order over the past six weeks, but one Cloquet watering hole has tried to use the time to make improvements while keeping all eight of its full-time employees on the payroll.

Carmen’s Bar and Restaurant on Big Lake Road is limited to curbside pick-up service, but owners Ryan Lindstrom and Zach Zezulka have started some major updates to the business while customer access is limited.

“We didn’t really plan this — the first shutdown was only 10 days,” Lindstrom said. “Then we found out it was going to be a month and we started thinking about doing some projects and updates. It kind of grew from there.”

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While the restaurant’s kitchen and bar staff continued to take, prepare and deliver food orders, Lindstrom, Zezulka and others have worked to remodel multiple rooms in the restaurant. They’ve painted and trimmed walls and built a new bar with a stone masonry base. They’ve also chosen to decorate several rooms with pieces of Cloquet’s history.

The brothers purchased another building in Cloquet’s West End several years ago and found a treasure trove of newspaper printing plates from the Pine Knot — the publication that eventually became the Pine Journal.

“After we closed, they said, ‘Everything left is yours,’” Lindstrom said. “We started going through it and those (plates) were piled up in there.”

Instead of leaving them unused, Zezulka suggested they use the plates to decorate the restaurant they’ve owned and operated for about five years.

“When we found them, they were cool to look at,” Zezulka said. “When you run a business you’re always looking at ways to improve it or make it different for people to enjoy ... People that come in here might have connections to the stories or different stores.”

The plates are from the mid-1970s Pine Knot, and feature sports stories, as well as ads for Spies Disco Foods and other businesses that have disappeared from Cloquet over the last 40 years.

“Not that Ryan and I really remember a lot of those places,” Zezulka said “But talking to the few people that have seen them, I think it brings up different memories for them, like ‘Oh yeah, I remember we used to go there when we were younger.’ It’s just different stories for people to talk about when they are here.”

Carmen’s has been in the brothers’ family for more than 25 years, Lindstrom said, and when they were younger they found more pieces of Cloquet history hiding in the restaurant’s attic: Photos of Cloquet High School and youth basketball teams from the 1920s and a photo of the Lumberjack football team from a later period.


The brothers played football and basketball for Cloquet and plan to get the photos framed for display in the bar area.

They are also “hustling” to try to finish the current phase of the remodel project before the governor’s order expires May 4, even though they expect dining rooms to remain closed beyond that date, Lindstrom said. If the order is extended, they will likely pick a few more things in another area of the restaurant to update.

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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