Knife River, MN (NNCNOW.com) - The close–knit Lake County community of Knife River could be overlooked if you're not paying attention on your drive up shore along Scenic Highway 61.
But on Sunday, cars were slowing down in disbelief at the sight of Russ Kendall's Smokehouse, and the charred skeleton that was once the building's back half.
"It's a great community, great location, great building," said Lighthouse at Emily's co–owner Andrea Darsow, whose restaurant is just up the road, "everybody knows everybody."
Darsow said the news of the fire reached her through her morning customers. They moved their business to the community three years ago because of the way the locals, like the Kendall family, welcomed them.
"It's just... so tragic, because they really, essentially are Knife River," said Darsow.
The fire was initially spotted by an EMT who had been fishing in Knife River, by the shores of Lake Superior, "and saw the smoke coming from the back of the building," said Darsow, "and she ran over to his house which is across the street."
That neighbor that was woken up by the fire spotter was Lawrence Lee.
"There was a woman pounding on my front door this morning at 6 o'clock," said Lee, who has spent 88 years in his home across the street from the Smokehouse, "and she said 'did you know there's a fire across the street at Russ Kendall's Smokehouse?' I said 'no, I didn't know that.' So I looked over, and sure enough, there was a fire."
Lee immediately called 911.
"I couldn't understand how they got here so fast, but they did," laughed Lee.
The Smokehouse's owners declined to comment Sunday.
But neighbors said the bulk of the fire was contained to the balk half of the building, while the front section, where people order their fish, also sustained smoke damage.
Lee says he hopes the Kendalls are able to rebuild, and get back to being a community staple.
"And he hired a lot of local kids that worked there, too," said Lee.
"Without them it's just a big loss," said Darsow, "so, I hope that they are able to rebuild."
The fire comes just as summer tourism season along the North Shore is picking up steam.
According to Russ Kendall's Smokehouse Facebook page, the business has been in operation since 1908.