Public auction of Whitey's Café set for May 15
Longtime Whitey's Café owner and manager Greg Stennes and partners are mounting another effort to save the East Grand Forks landmark, showing it to prospective buyers and scheduling a public auction for May 15.
The Sunday auction will include the café building at 121 DeMers Ave., seven second-floor apartments at 119½ DeMers Ave. (with all existing leases), and all furnishings, fixtures and restaurant supplies on the premises.
"My only role now is to keep an eye on the property and show it," Stennes said. "I've shown it to a number of parties. Our objective is to get somebody new in there who can do the job and hopefully preserve what we built.
"It's been a rocky road, these past months, but I'm quite confident there will be a new owner."
Whitey's closed Feb. 8, just a few months after a new ownership group took over. Dave Norman, one of the owners, said at the time that a competitive marketplace hampered efforts to revive the business.
The likely demise of the bar and restaurant had been rumored for months as customer traffic appeared to dwindle and managers cut hours and menu options.
Norman and other investors had bought Whitey's last summer from Stennes, who said he would retire. Stennes remained owner of the building, which was leased to Norman and his group.
The new group changed the name to Whitey's Steak and Seafood.
Also included in the auction, according to information on the former business's web site, are Whitey's Café's "intellectual property and brand," which carries the eatery's storied past: its origins in the Prohibition era, and its reputation as a place where patrons once played slot machines.
Legions of UND students earned their tuition money behind the horseshoe bar, and visitors included Chicago gangsters and such Hollywood figures as Clark Gable. More than a few wedding proposals were made over the decades.
Stennes said a new buyer might bring an entirely different approach, including a new name.
"It could be something else," he said, though many people have told him they long for something like a restoration.
"A lot of people feel jilted by this whole business," he said. "They lost something that meant something to them. I'm hoping we can get the right party in there that will resurrect Whitey's."