2019 Top 10 Stories: No. 7 — New restaurants add to options, businesses find new starts

Arguably one of the biggest surprises came in March with the closing of Olive Garden in Baxter. Customers mobbed the restaurant in its last days of operation.

Olive Garden, near the intersection of Highway 371 and Glory Road in Baxter, closed its doors at the end of March, 2019 after more than six years of operation. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

On the business side, 2019 was a year of an unexpected closing, fresh starts and growing restaurant options.

Arguably one of the biggest surprises came in March with the closing of Olive Garden in Baxter. Customers mobbed the restaurant in its last days of operation.

"We always have to look at the trade areas that we're in, and it boils down to a business decision," said Jerid Courneya, director of operations at the Baxter restaurant, of the lakes area customer base. "Unfortunately, we thought the trade area was just not where we wanted it to be, so we are going to be closing."

The American-Italian restaurant opened on Garrison Road near the intersection of Highway 371 and Glory Road in Baxter in October 2012, creating about 150 jobs in the community. Olive Garden signs came down and notices that the restaurant permanently closed were hung on the exterior. But as the saying goes, as one door closes, another opens. This month, El Tequila Mexican Restaurant, which made the move from the FitQuest Building along Highway 371 North in Baxter into the former Olive Garden, opened its doors for business there.


Restaurant openings this year included Firehouse Subs and Chipotle in Baxter with expectations for Five Guys opening as well. Knotty Pine Bakery, winner of the Destination Downtown Business Contest, opened in downtown Brainerd.

It was also a year of comebacks as Gander Outdoors reclaimed a highly renovated location and reopened its store in Baxter with Overton’s and Camping World at the site. Burger King’s relaunch in Brainerd inspired long lines in its drive-thru and a busy restaurant.

Dairy Queen closed its Westgate Mall eatery and opened a Grill & Chill in northeast Brainerd by the East Brainerd Mall.

Ashley Furniture store announced it would reopen a store in the lakes area by taking over the space vacated by Herberger’s closure. This marks a return for Ashley Furniture, which was in Baxter between 2006 and 2008. Planet Fitness opened in the back part of the former Herberger’s store at the start of 2019 and work is ongoing for the transformation of the former department store into Ashley Furniture.

Four Seasons Car Wash opened in Baxter, building a location next to Radco. Bette Mae’s closed in the Westgate Mall. Hockey House ended its run in downtown Brainerd in May. Family Dollar closed in Brainerd, as did Famous Footwear.

Brainerd General Rental moved into a new facility built on its existing property in Baxter.

In early 2019, Evenson's Hallmark closed leaving Brainerd and Baxter without a Hallmark store.

Other mainstays made major changes, such as Target’s makeover in Baxter. And the former SuperAmerica convenience store on Washington Street also has new ownership, a new look and a new plan with the Mid-Town Depot opening both the gas pumps and a convenience store with more food options.


Other notable renovations this year include the Bob and Fran’s Factory Direct building in downtown Brainerd along with the Knotty Pine Bakery, which both brought back windows to historic buildings. The Brainerd Lofts also reopened for business space and apartments on Seventh Street in what was once known the Downtown Brainerd Mall. The Vice, a new bar and eatery, opened in downtown Brainerd next to The Last Turn Saloon. Apricot Lane, a women’s clothing store, and Serenity Design, a retailer, opened in the Starbucks Center in Baxter.

Features continued to be added to the Northern Pacific Center with the coffee shop Loco Express opening this month.

It’s not an exhaustive list of business openings in Brainerd and Baxter, and the surrounding communities have continued to see changes this year, including spots like Victual in Crosby with artisan cheeses, cured meats and pâtés, gifts and Rave Creamworks super premium ice cream, which is also lactose free.

Visit for the rest of the Brainerd Dispatch's 2019 Top 10 list.

Renee Richardson, 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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