ELY – Britton’s Café here closed to the public last Thursday and will remain so until all the nearby wildfires are extinguished and all the firefighters return home.No, owner …
ELY – Britton’s Café here closed to the public last Thursday and will remain so until all the nearby wildfires are extinguished and all the firefighters return home.
No, owner Bonnie Jacobson and her staff are not on vacation. Far from it.
In fact, they are working harder than ever these days, preparing more than 1,000 meals every single day for the U.S. Forest Service to feed the growing multitude of firefighters battling the massive Greenwood Fire and other blazes in the North Country.
A visitor to the little Chapman Street eatery at 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning was greeted by a sign on the door, “We will be closed until further notice. We are feeding the firefighters. God bless them and keep them all in your prayers.”
Inside the popular restaurant, most of the 12 Britton’s employees, who had been working since midnight, had just finished cooking and boxing up 350 hot breakfasts that were picked up by USFS personnel to be delivered to the fire crews. Lunch was next.
Jacobson was contracted by Forest Service officials last month to help provide meals for the Delta Fire crews.
“We started July 16 with preparing about 120 meals, twice a day,” she said. “Since Thursday, we were asked to provide up to 350 breakfasts, lunches and dinners every day, that’s 1,050 meals every 24 hours. We had to close our doors to the public because we just couldn’t keep up and we were running out of space for organizing and preparing all the meals.”
By daybreak on Sunday, the breakfasts were out the door and the crew was arranging 350 open paper bags on tables, benches, chairs and counters for sack lunches. Each bag received an apple, bag of chips, snacks and other treats. Soon, sandwiches would be added to the bags before they headed out the door.
“We said we would continue for as long as they need us and until the fires are out,” Jacobson said.
As anyone who has visited the restaurant can attest, the firefighters are getting well fed. “We switch it up every day,” she said. “Tomorrow morning they will have breakfast burritos with American fries. They have also had the biscuit and gravy meal. We make eggs and bacon or sausage with American fries. We have blueberry or apple French toast on the menu. They have us decide what we will make for the day.”
What would cause an Ely icon to close its doors to the pubic during the gravy days of the tourist season, especially since recent COVID closures challenged all the businesses in town?
“They asked us,” Jacobson said. “I told them we could do whatever they need. Our staff is amazing and they are what make all this happen.”
She listed off her staff, Samantha “Sam” Jax, Cassandra Lakner, Dortz (not Delores!) Winsor, Cory Noble, Luanne Harper, Brenda Johnson, Bev Kappes, Logan Crawford, Jess Oelke, Sue Leino, Carla Olsen, and Joe Rasmussen.
“We also have a ton of people helping us,” Jacobson added, including her son, Jesse Cornwell, Jim Woods, Paul and Tina Nyman, and Kathy Zupancich.
“I’m so blessed with all these people coming in to help us help the firefighters. I have so many wonderful people in my life. Jess took a U-Haul to Sam’s Club in Duluth to get more food, and a bunch of people showed up and helped unload the truck. So many great people live in this community.”
As the Britton’s staff was preparing another round of meals, a steady stream of hungry customers kept knocking at the door Sunday morning hoping to get breakfast.
“We have the big sign on the door explaining why we’re closed but they knock anyway,” she said. “Once they find out what we’re doing, they thank us for what we’re doing.”
Community service is in Jacobson’s heart. Britton’s stepped to the plate a decade ago to help the firefighters battling the Pagami Creek Fire. This is the first time the restaurant made the decision to close to the public.
“Back then we just made their lunches and the crews came in here for breakfast, because they weren’t so far away,” she said.
Jacobson and her crew of dedicated workers do get some time off during the day and evening.
“It just seems like we’re here all the time. My staff is awesome. It amazes me what they all do,” she said as her eyes welled up with emotion. “I’m not going to cry,” she called out to her staff nearby. But a few tears were spotted on her cheek.
“I would like everyone to keep all these firefighters and everyone involved in their prayers,” Jacobson said. “And thank you all for your support.”
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