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Whitey's to be revived in basement of former East Grand Forks location

The Whitey's building in East Grand Forks soon will be home to Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews and Whitey's Underground. If everything goes according to plan, both should be open in mid-December. April Baumgarten / Forum News Service

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — Whitey's Cafe will be revived in the basement of its old home in East Grand Forks as a Fargo-based restaurant prepares to open there next month.

Contractors with Starmark Hospitality of Fargo have worked to transform the top level of the Whitey's space at 121 DeMers Ave. into Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews. The company will use the basement of the building as a secondary restaurant called Whitey's Underground, which will feature items from the popular eatery, which closed in August.

"We're hoping to re-energize the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks area by bringing these two restaurants to the east side of the river," said Starmark partner Scott Upton.

If all goes as planned, both restaurants could open Dec. 11.

Starmark, the parent company of Sickies, announced in August its plans to take over the building that housed Whitey's, an East Grand Forks landmark restaurant that served the area since the 1920s. The company has worked to redesign the building's interior, especially the main floor, to fit the garage theme of Sickies. Owners also wanted to incorporate some aspects of Whitey's.

Whitey's Underground has decor from the former Whitey's, including the Prohibition-era slot machines, photos and art. It will be able to host banquets of up to 80 guests, said Whitey's Underground general manager David Raymond. The plan is to have it open every night, but that will depend on foot traffic, Upton said.

Whitey's was founded by Edwin "Whitey" Larson as the Coney Island Lunchroom in 1925. Then he changed the name to Whitey's Wonderbar in 1932, a name that stuck in one form or another over the years.

Greg Stennes, who bought the restaurant with a group of partners in 1973 before selling it in 2010, said he was impressed by Sickies when he visited the restaurant in Grand Forks, adding it has "a good Whitey's feel to it." He said it was nice that the chain wants to keep Whitey's alive.

"It might work well down there," he said. "It's really nice that they want to carry that flag and keep it going."

Sickies has kept the historic horseshoe bar upstairs.

Between the two restaurants, Starmark plans to hire 115 employees, Upton said. It hopes to start training staff early next month.

The Grand Forks Sickies location will close Dec. 3 because the market is not large enough to sustain two restaurants, Upton said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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