UPDATED: Dunkin’ Donuts looks at new site in Brainerd

The restaurant was expected to build along Washington Street in 2016 but withdrew from those plans. This concept is for a drive-thru location.

A vacant business on Washington Street in Brainerd.
The long vacant building at Gillis Avenue and Washington Street may be razed and a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru constructed in its place.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Dunkin’ Donuts is back as an option for development in Brainerd but this time it may be a drive-thru only restaurant.

An application before the Brainerd Planning Commission May 17 included a request for two variances to build at 3 Washington St. NE. on behalf of Dairyland Operations LLC (Dunkin’ Donuts).

Variances included allowing a main entrance to face the rear of the property and the second related to yard setbacks. The city noted drive-thru businesses are permitted in the zoning district. The applicant was seeking a variance to allow a drive-thru around the building to allow a turning radius for most vehicles and to set the building up as a drive-thru business. The sign depicted in drawings note it as a Dunkin' Drive Thru.

Drawing of building and layout with drive-thru
An applicant was recently before the May 17, 2023, Brainerd Planning Commission seeking two variances to build a drive-thru only Dunkin' Donuts restaurant at the corner of Gillis Avenue and Washington Streets on a lot with a long vacant building in the city.
Contributed / City of Brainerd

The city noted its setback requirements were set up to accommodate off-street parking spaces at the rear.

“The lot on which this proposed development will occur has been vacant for a significant amount of time, leaving one of the more visible lots on Washington St. blighted,” James Kramvik, community development director, and Dylan Edwards, assistant planner, wrote in a report to the Planning Commission. “By granting these variances, which reduce the existing nonconformities of the parcel, the city will gain a new building and an established franchise.”


The report also noted the property is challenged because of its size.

Staff did recommend approval of the variance requests. The plan would call for the demolition of the existing long vacant building. The Brainerd Planning Commission members approved the request. It will go before the City Council June 5.

Mike Mead, project manager with the ownership group, and Mario Valentini, architect with MRV Architects, spoke to the commission virtually.

Drawings for the Dunkin' location include a patio seating area by a walk-up ordering window and the drive-thru wrapping around the front of the building. The facility would have four parking spaces.

“We’re excited to be there,” Mead said.

Planning Commission member Donald Gorham asked if the city's new lighting ordinance would be in effect for this development, which is expected in late June. Kramvik said that will depend on when they apply for the building permit.

"We appreciate the opportunity and staff was great in working with to try and help us kind of get through somewhat of a cumbersome site plan approach, again obviously, because it's very small site to work with, " Valentini said, noting the drive-thru only component helps with the small site. Valentini said they adjusted the site plan to accomodate traffic flow and to make sure the entrance off Gillis Avenue was not close to Washington Street, moving the access as far north as possible.

“We do have a great opportunity to get what amounts to a new Dunkin’ standard building in a great location,” Valentini said.


Access will be from an existing entrance off Washington Street and entrance and exit from Gillis Avenue and then access back onto the highway at the signal light intersection.

Other questions from commissioners Michael Duval and Chairman Kevin Yeager related to vehicle stacking to make sure traffic wouldn't be backed up on Washington Street. They were told a stacking of eight vehicles is typical for this type of location. The drive aisle is 12 feet and is designed to accommodate a turn from Gillis Avenue into the drive-thru line. Valentini said they felt comfortable, based on projections, there won't be any issues with traffic backing up on the highway.

Yeager thanked the Dunkin' representatives for bringing the project forward and wanting to build in Brainerd.

"For as long as I can remember, I haven't lived here my entire life, but as long as I can remember that corner has just been sitting there in what appears to be basically stuck in time for what I think is decades," Yeager said. "So I am super excited about a new project coming in here. … We should just jump at this at the first opportunity."

Yeager said the reality is the city has very similar dynamics for traffic and drive-thrus about a block and a half to the east.

"I’m in full support and I would love to approve this and get the applicant rolling,” Yeager said.

Conditions for approval before a building permit would be granted included: applying landscape parking lot standards, a 65% glazing requirement along Washington Street, and the walk-in cooler must be screened or match the building architecture.

The property is the long vacant bread store at the northeast corner of Gillis Avenue and Washington Street. The tall sign by the sidewalk shows a shadow of the former business for the Master Bakery Outlet. It is next to Sakura Express Asian restaurant and near 5 Rocks Distilling Co.


"This is going to be an improvement," Gorham said of the redevelopment of the site. "... This is a move forward. ... I'd love to see that new lighting code in effect as soon as possible."

This isn't the first time Dunkin' has had an interest in building in Brainerd.

In 2016, Dunkin' Donuts was expected to build along Washington Street near Riverside Riverside Elementary School, across from Walgreen's.

Signs that previously adorned the building announcing a future location for the pastries and breakfast sandwiches and Dunkin' Donuts' coffee were removed and a for-sale sign once again placed out front in the spring of 2016. Gull Lake Glass was previously at the site and made room for the doughnut shop as it moved out to Highway 371 in 2015. After Dunkin’ Donuts removed the site from its plans, Corral Auto Repair moved in.

Headline News from the Brainerd Dispatch

Sources close to the project at the time said Dunkin' Donuts was still interested in the lakes area market but were looking for another site that may suit its needs more fully. The earlier planned construction of the doughnut shop in Brainerd was part of Dunkin' Donuts return to Minnesota. The first one was in Rochester and the first free-standing one was going near the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth. The Brainerd location was to be the third Dunkin' Donuts in Minnesota.

RENEE RICHARDSON, Brainerd Dispatch managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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