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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Montana Café at risk of collapse

David Colburn
Posted 7/4/24

COOK- It’s been one hit after another for Montana Café owner Megan Strong since the café was first flooded by the torrential rains of June 18 that spawned the subsequent flash …

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Montana Café at risk of collapse


COOK- It’s been one hit after another for Montana Café owner Megan Strong since the café was first flooded by the torrential rains of June 18 that spawned the subsequent flash flood. Strong’s restaurant was inundated with a foot of water in the dining room and kitchen, but the most recent hit may be the cruelest of all.
Last Friday, as Strong was selling merchandise and frozen food items saved from the flood, the city closed her down after an inspection revealed that the 116-year-old building could be in imminent danger of collapse. They secured the building and blocked off River St. in front of the business to ensure public safety should the building fall down.
“We got most of our stuff out, but most of my equipment is still in the kitchen,” Strong said. “They (the city) could not get an engineer because it was late afternoon Friday, so a residential home inspector came and said that it was in fact unsafe. Shane Johnson, a Cook firefighter who is heading up the city’s flood response, said he couldn’t send volunteers to help get the very expensive kitchen equipment out because he believes that’s the only thing holding the kitchen down. The city disconnected the power, water, and gas from the building as well.”
A structural engineer was scheduled to evaluate the building on Monday.
Strong’s nightmarish ordeal began like so many others on the night of June 18 when the café’s basement flooded from the excessive rain.
“Our basement filled up, but we were able to pump everything out and dry things completely,” Strong said. “All of our equipment worked, so we were going to open again on Thursday, but Wednesday, we flooded again.”
It was difficult for Strong to fathom that the water would rise so high.
“We thought that should be all, that should be all, it’s shouldn’t get any higher than that,” she said. “We would just move things up on shelves, but around four or five o’clock that afternoon we decided we just needed to get as much out as we could because there was no saving everything.”
The next big blow came when Strong met with her insurance adjuster.
“We didn’t have a flood policy, so they aren’t willing to cover anything,” she said.
And Strong is feeling the impact as much for her employees and the community as she is for herself.
“I had around six or seven employees, and now they’re all without work, or they have to work more at their second jobs that they had,” she said. “And we don’t know when we’ll be able to open again, so everything’s kind of up in the air for them at this point.”
The Montana Café has been more than just a place to get a good meal. For decades, it’s been one of Cook’s main social gathering places for friends and families to meet and spend time together while sharing a cup of coffee or a meal.
“I think people are just heartbroken,” Strong said. “We’re just such a tight community. People come and visit us and we update them on how our lives are going. We see people all summer that come in every year, and now we’ll miss those people who come up for that one week during the summer. And it’s just as important to all the locals that come in throughout the year. You just feel disconnected.”
Strong had already given some thought to the possibility of tearing the building down and building a new café, given the extensive damage and the anticipated cost of making repairs.
“We don’t know if we would be able to fix what’s happened,” she said. “The building is just so old. It was completed in 1908, and the kitchen was added on in 1996. I think this is the oldest building in Cook – I don’t know what the other really old buildings would be in town. This has held a lot of different businesses. It would hurt quite a bit to watch it go.”
Depending on the outcome of the structural assessment, there may be no choice to make.
“To get back to having people come back in and see the community is the most important part to us,” Strong said. “The building is sentimental, but at the end of the day it’s just a building.”
Strong’s pop-up was back in operation on Saturday at the Cook Area Farmers Market, and she’s also set up an online store on Shopify at
A GoFundMe campaign organized by Krystal Brodeen, Strong’s sister, has raised over $19,000 so far to help with the recovery. Those wishing to make a donation can find the campaign at
(Editor's note: After press deadline, the result of the engineering assessment revealed that the building was not in danger of collapsing, but the fate of the building remains to be decided)