Eat at Gordy's Hi Hat enough, and you might be offered a free meal as part of the burger joint's "bail-out program."

The seasonal restaurant in Cloquet plans to roll out new coupons, which it will distribute to random customers in the dining room this summer. It's one of many ways area eateries are dealing with the worst recession since World War II.

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The Pickwick in Duluth created a new menu based on one it used during that war: Economic Stimulus Menu No. 2. Everything on it -- some new items, some pulled from the main menu -- is less than $15.

"The first thing people cut out is dining," said Chris Wisocki, an owner of the long-time family-run steakhouse. "You need a good product at an economical price, so we created something to satisfy that need."

The recession menu accompanies the main menu, which has been scaled back with the removal of higher-priced items. Those now must be requested.

Many local restaurants always have run daily specials and happy hours. But a lot of establishments have started specials or expanded them this year to stop or prevent declining sales.

"Today's customer is very price- and value-sensitive," said Brad Erickson, general manager of Sunset Bar & Grill in Duluth. "In my 20 years in the food and beverage business, I've never seen such a price-point-driven market."

Dreamland Supper Club in South Range recently felt the pinch of the recession, its gross sales were down $10,000 over last year for a five-month


"We'll ride it out and wait for things to get better," co-owner Dan Patterson said. "We're not willing to cut costs or let quality go."

Gordy's owner Dan Lundquist opened earlier this year because his employees wanted to get back to work. To compete with national franchises, Lundquist has lowered some prices and plans lots of daily specials, "even though the prices of a number of commodities have increased," he said.

A & Dubs in West End/Lincoln Park has had a steady customer base despite the economy.

"They're having hamburgers and hot dogs instead of steaks," Sandra Hantz, co-owner said.

Grandma's Restaurant Co. president Brian Daugherty said the specials at the company's nine restaurants have grown in popularity this year. Frozen soup sales in the grocery sector were up 20 percent while restaurant profits were down about 2 percent. Company employees this year were not given a wage increase.

"We have had to roll up our sleeves a little higher and work a little harder to please the customers," Daugherty said.

"But ... I don't believe people will forsake the gathering [and] forget about going out, getting together, relaxing and treating themselves."

That philosophy is holding true at Fitger's Brewhouse, which draws customers with happy-hour deals on its hand-crafted beers.

"We've been pretty busy," manager Sheila Sutton said. "During a recession, people drown their sorrows in beer and alcohol. If they are happy, they do the same."