The man behind Cloquet’s locally famous diner, Gordy Lundquist, died Tuesday, July 6.
Lundquist, 93, opened Gordy’s Hi-Hat in 1960. Since that time, the annual opening of the seasonal pitstop on Minnesota Highway 33 has been an unmistakable sign that summer is on the way.
Judd Selland, owner of the Taco John’s and Steak Escape, said he didn’t know Gordy very well, but even when traveling in the Twin Cities he would hear people talking about Gordy’s Hi-Hat opening.
“It seems he starts and ends summer every year,” Sulland said.
Gordy was born in Duluth in 1927 and attended high school at Denfeld High School, where he was an all-state selection in football, according to his son, Dan Lundquist. Gordy met his wife, Marilyn Lundquist, while at Denfeld and was extremely proud of his alma mater.
“When our customers would come in and he saw someone from Denfeld, he always made a note to say something,” Dan said.
Gordy studied business at a junior college and after a couple of different jobs, he and Marilyn decided to get into the restaurant business. Their first restaurant was an A&W with car-hop service in Eveleth. They sold the business after a couple of years and opened the London Inn in Duluth.
“London Inn has a lot of history. It was kind of like an Arnold’s of the Midwest,” Dan said, referencing the fictitious restaurant on TV's "Happy Days." “Kids used to come through and smoke their tires, all that kind of stuff.”
After they sold the London Inn, the Lundquists made the move to Cloquet and opened Gordy’s Hi-Hat in 1960.
Cloquet Mayor Roger Maki said he remembers going to Gordy’s that summer and purchasing a burger for 19 cents. Maki likes his hamburgers plain — even without ketchup or mustard — and had to make sure that was made clear when he ordered.
“Gordy would take my order and sometimes he would question me on it, he’d say, ‘Nothing?’” Maki said. “I’d say, 'That’s right.’”
Maki, who got to know Gordy better after he started his real estate business, said even after his kids began to leave the Cloquet area, the Hi-Hat is still a must-visit every time they return home.
“He was so friendly and welcoming and also such a good manager of the business to be able to put out so much food in a day,” Maki said. “Think about the hours when they weren’t even open, how much work they had to do to get the hamburger patties ready and all the other stuff.”
Even after Gordy began transitioning the day-to-day management of the restaurant, to Dan, he was still working at Gordy’s.
“My dad didn’t really have any other hobbies in life except this,” Dan said. “So he would still come in every day, even a couple years ago, and work the counter for eight to 10 hours a day. He’d had his knees replaced and his hips done and he’d still work, but I’d have to walk him out at the end of the day because he couldn’t do the steps.”
Last year, as the Hi-Hat revived car hop service to continue serving customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gordy still continued to come by.
“We went to car hop for all of last year and my dad would still come up, sit in the car outside and just talk to customers,” Dan said. “We would have a cup of coffee and love doing it.”
Dan grew up working with his mother and father in the restaurant and learned the value of treating the staff with respect and kindness.
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“I worked alongside them for many years and you take for granted the little things you learn,” Dan said. “But you learn very well to deal with your employees, because they’re the key and we have an extremely dedicated staff that have been with us for many years — our head cooks have been here 25 or 30 years. You have to do things well to keep people that long.
"Those are the kind of things you learn, you can’t put your finger on it, but it’s the day-to-day treatment of employees," Dan said.
Gordy was also generous with the community, according to Dan. Gordy’s Warming House, a coffee shop opened in the Lundquists’ old home next to the Hi-Hat 16 years ago, hosts residents of Sunnyside Health Care Center for ice cream every year. The restaurant also sent food to emergency workers in 2018 while they battled the Husky Refinery fire in Superior.
Dan said this year, a number of ailments started to “catch up” with his dad, preventing him from returning from his winter home in Florida. Throughout his last weeks, Marilyn, his wife of 71 years, was by Gordy's side.
“My mom made a point, they made a promise they would never go into nursing care,” Dan said. “She took care of him this last week at home and it was difficult, but they were together right until the end. We should all be so lucky.”