Congratulations to the Kerfoots at Gunflint Lodge

Bruce and Sue Kerfoot were nominated to be part of the Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame. This is a prestigious award in the resort and restaurant world of Minnesota.  We congratulate the Kerfoots on their achievement.

It was also noted the Kerfoots have listed their lodge up for sale.  When asked to comment on this news here’s what I told John Myers…

Over the years Bruce and Sue have been a vital part of our Gunflint Trail community.  From being members of the rescue squad when it was formed long ago, to most recently helping get Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center opened they have been a true asset to the safety and success of businesses on the Gunflint Trail.  We may not always agree with Bruce but we respect him just the same.  As for being up for sale and wanting out…  Many resort owners work 12-15 hour days for 4-5 months in a row with no holidays or scheduled days off. Then they are on call the rest of the time or fulfilling other obligations such as parenting or volunteering on boards. There’s very little privacy in the life of a resort owner and you’re always in demand. Gunflint Lodge is open year around so they don’t have all winter off like some places do.  I have no idea how they can still be working that hard at their age. I would hope they would be ready to retire one of these days and wish them luck in selling the business and congratulate them for being inducted into the Hall of Fame, they deserve it.

Gunflint Lodge owners make Hospitality Hall of Fame; lodge up for sale

The Kerfoot name has been legendary along the Gunflint Trail for decades, and the Gunflint Lodge owners just entered the Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame. But the award also marks the end of an era: Bruce and Sue Kerfoot confirmed last week that they have put the resort, in the Kerfoot-Spunner family for 84 years, up for sale.

By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

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Bruce and Sue Kerfoot first took over Gunflint Lodge in the 1960s, when this photo was taken, from Bruce’s mother, Justine Kerfoot. After 84 years in the Kerfoot family, the lodge is for sale. (Photo courtesy of Gunflint Lodge)

The Kerfoot name has been legendary along the Gunflint Trail for decades, and the Gunflint Lodge owners just entered the Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame.

But the award also marks the end of an era: Bruce and Sue Kerfoot confirmed last week that they have put the resort, in the Kerfoot-Spunner family for 84 years, up for sale.

A cool $6.7 million will get you a half-mile of Gunflint Lake shoreline with its view into Canada, 100 acres and among the largest resort operations in northern Minnesota.

“We are coming off our best financial year ever in the history of the resort. … But Sue and I want to enjoy a little time in the pasture before we check out for good,” Bruce told the News Tribune. “We want a little time to relax.”

The Kerfoots already have purchased their retirement home just down the trail on Tucker Lake.

“I’ve been working toward this for the past year and now we have a Realtor out trolling for buyers,” said Bruce, 74. “So far nobody has written the check yet.”

Word has spread that the family is getting out of the resort business, said Fred Smith, a Gunflint Lake resident and past president of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society.

“It just won’t be the same along the trail without a Kerfoot running Gunflint Lodge,” Smith said. “That family is an institution up here. They are great business people. But they are also great people. … They have done so much for the community up here.”

That includes, among other efforts, helping form the historical society and helping sow the seeds decades ago for what has become the lauded Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department.

“Over the years Bruce and Sue have been a vital part of our Gunflint Trail community,” said Sue Prom, co-owner of Voyageur Canoe Outfitters. “From being members of the rescue squad when it was formed long ago, to most recently helping get Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center opened, they have been a true asset to the safety and success of businesses on the Gunflint Trail.”

“This is the kind of place where, now and then, everybody needs their neighbor’s help, and the Kerfoots have always been there for the community,” Smith said.

Bruce and Sue are in their second stint running Gunflint Lodge on the Canadian border, first taking over from Bruce’s mother, Gunflint trail pioneer Justine Kerfoot, in the late 1960s. They handed operations over to a son, Lee, in 2001, but took back control in 2008.

Over those 45 years Bruce and Sue transformed the historic fishing resort and canoe trip outfitting business into an upscale year-round, full-service resort, winterizing the main lodge in the early 1990s and marketing winter trips to cross-country skiers. Since then the Gunflint Trail has become a winter destination and Gunflint Lodge has found a niche among high-end tourists willing to spend more for a more refined vacation in the north woods — from hot tubs and horseback riding to a five-star restaurant.

Just last year the Kerfoots opened a $400,000 zip line canopy tour, the first of its kind in the Northland.

The resort stays busy even during “off” seasons, with events such as the “Gourmet Italian Dinner and Wine Weekend” this weekend featuring a visiting chef, seven-course meal and wine sampling. The resort is full at a time — after leaves fall but before the snow falls — that can be tough to draw visitors.

It’s that success that led to Friday’s announcement from the Minnesota Resort & Campground Association that the Kerfoots have been inducted into the Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame.

The Hospitality Hall of Fame recognizes individuals “who have made significant contributions to the development of Minnesota’s resort and campground industry and are deemed legends by their peers.” The award honors lifetime achievement and exemplary leadership in the industry.

A nomination for the Hall of Fame submitted for the Kerfoots noted their “propensity for hiring temporary workers from countries throughout the world, their success in bringing fine dining deep into the Gunflint Trail, their innovative use of the Internet and social media, their early development of a naturalist program and their community/tourism involvement with local, regional and national organizations.”

Bruce was born in a log cabin at the resort and has lived most of his life on the Gunflint Trail. A Cornell University graduate, he has served on state and national tourism organizations and was a player in the battle over establishing the current makeup of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Sue, a native of the Chicago area, has served as the historian for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. She wrote an outdoors blog for the Star Tribune in 2009-10 and co-wrote “The Gunflint Lodge Cookbook,” which was published in 1997. She also was instrumental in the publication of two books by Women of the Gunflint Trail, featuring stories and recipes.

Dora Blankenburg and her son, Russell, started Gunflint Lodge in 1925. In 1929 Mae Spunner from Illinois and her daughter, Justine, bought the resort, at the time comprised of a very small lodge building with a store selling supplies to local Indians and fishing tackle to guests, plus a dining room to serve meals. Justine eventually married Bill Kerfoot, the son of the president of Hamline University, in 1934. The couple ran the resort until Bruce and Sue took over in the 1960s.

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