Taste of Dorset: Restaurant owners ready for fun food event

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For Dorset business owners, the Taste of Dorset 2017 Feast Fest is fast approaching and will take place this Sunday, Aug. 6 from 11 a.m to 3 p.m., rain or shine in the "Restaurant Capital of the World."

In August 2016, Carter Erickson along with his wife Rachel and their son Cash realized their lifelong dream when they purchased the Dorset Cafe, now called the Dorset Chick'n Coop Bar and Restaurant. This weekend will be the Ericksons' first Taste of Dorset as owners.

The Ericksons relocated to the Park Rapids area in May 2015. Carter grew up in central Minnesota, he and Rachel met at the Mall of America in 1995 and after having lived abroad for two years and in Los Angeles for 17 years, both Carter and Rachel decided they wanted to raise their son in northern Minnesota and own and operate a restaurant.

"We bought a place that needed some updating, inside and out and we're in the process of doing both," Carter said, adding that they just completed a kitchen remodel and expansion. "The next thing we're going to do is a nice patio and boardwalk out front to match the boardwalk style of Dorset."

While talking about why he chose to purchase what was then called the Dorset Cafe, Carter said, "This was just a really good fit for us. It's the kind of food that we enjoy making and also adding some things to the menu that we're doing with the pizzas and we're doing our prime rib dipped sandwich everyday, which is just amazing."

Carter said they don't want to completely change the restaurant because it works the way it is. When they make a change they ask themselves if that change could make a negative impact.

"When something works, it works, why change it? We can keep doing the great things that people like but we can spruce it up a little bit," Carter said. "The way that we do business is to make delicious homemade food, give good customer service and make it be in a fun and happy atmosphere that people enjoy being in."

The Ericksons' first year up here was the year Companeros and the Dorset House had burned down.

"We drove through every day," Carter said, adding it was their main route from home to Park Rapids or Nevis. "This town just seemed dead and then we came on the Taste that year and this place was crazy. We thought, 'how does this little town just explode?'"

The Taste veteran, Kathy Schmidt, is from Park Rapids and has lived in the area all her life, she has been in the restaurant business for over 40 years now and this year will mark her 25th year in Dorset as owner of La Pasta Italian Eatery.

"We moved out here in 1992 and the Taste of Dorset had already been in existence for two to three seasons and we liked the mix of people, all the business owners got along really well, they worked together to make the Taste," she said. "All of the other businesses weren't here at that time, it was mainly the Dorset House, Companeros, us and what was then the Dorset Cafe, that was pretty much it in the beginning and after a while other businesses started coming in."

The restaurant owners at that time wanted to have an event and in the first years it was called Dorset Days which didn't take off right away.

"Nobody really got too excited about it. Then they came up with the idea that they should just call it the Taste of Dorset because the Taste of Minnesota was relatively new, and so it all kind of happened right about the same time," Schmidt said.

On Sunday, there will be live music, the world famous mayoral race and of course food, smaller portions for smaller prices as Schmidt put it. According to Schmidt, new this year will be the world's shortest parade and a hillbilly horseshoe competition.

"We've had a heck of a lot of fun with the Taste of Dorset," Schmidt said. "It's quite the event, we have a really good time doing it."

La Pasta will be selling spaghetti balls, spaghetti pie and pork while the Chick'n Coop will be serving slider versions of their shaved prime rib sandwiches. There will also be more fun food from other Dorset businesses.

"This being our first year, that's the one thing we haven't done. We've lived through a fourth, we were here and helped out with the previous owners for the Taste but we haven't done our own Taste yet," Carter said. "So I think once we get to Sunday, August 6th and we're done with that, we'll be officially baptized into the world of Dorset."

Over the years the attendance can be anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people. Schmidt credits part of the discrepancy to the fact that WeFest usually falls on the same weekend.

"We hold it rain or shine. Most of us have tents out there and we always kid the customers and tell them it's against the law to rain on the Taste," she said. "And it's been kind of true, we've had some weather that's been a little weird over the years. One year it was just cloudy and people were calling to ask if we were still going to have it and the Taste of Dorset got over at 3 p.m. and it rained at 4:00, we called it street cleaning."

Visitors can reach Dorset from the north side and the south side and people park along the highway and they will offer free shuttle rides into Dorset.

"What I like about it is that it's just such a family friendly event. People come out here and the ones that have been coming for years bring lawn chairs, everybody seems to know everybody else," Schmidt said. "It has that old hometown feeling that I really enjoy. They're more than customers they're people you've known so many years they're like part of your family."