Small-town cafes. Family-owned hardware stores. Neighborhood coffee shops. At Gate City Bank, we believe local businesses are the lifeblood of main street economies and play a vital role in the communities we call home.
Here’s a closer look at just a few stories from the small businesses that we are proud to support and serve across North Dakota and Minnesota:
With an eclectic blend of Asian, American and Hawaiian spices, Jerry and Sandy Wong have brought a little sunshine and the spirit of Aloha to the community of Williston, ND.
After moving from Hawaii to North Dakota, the Wong family was drawn to the small-town charm of Williston and opened Hula’s Fire Grill on Main Street, serving simple and unique dishes with island flair and warm hospitality. “We were very fortunate to find a location that had most of what we needed to get started. And with lots of luck, we were able to open three months after signing a lease.”
Over the years, Hula’s Fire Grill has grown and become highly successful. Like most businesses, however, the restaurant was faced with the unexpected when the pandemic hit in 2020. Jerry says, “Sales dropped over 25%. We are slowly recovering, but it has been a challenge. We are so thankful to our incredible staff and to Gate City Bank for how they helped us to secure government funding.”
If you ask Jerry why to support small businesses, the answer is simple: “Most small business owners are your neighbors.” He adds, “For us, Williston has made all of our dreams come true.”
Instrument lessons filled with fun? For kids and parents everywhere, that’s music to their ears.
In 2011, Bryce and Lisa Niemiller opened Elevate Rock School in Fargo, ND, offering music lessons for students with an unexpected twist: live band performances. Lisa says, “Fast forward 10 years, we have a brand-new location, the most students we’ve ever had, a new licensed preschool and the most fantastic team of teachers we could ever ask for.”
In fact, their Fargo music studio has grown from 80 to 330 students. Five years ago, the Niemillers also opened a successful franchise location in Mooresville, North Carolina.
“Much like other businesses, we were certainly affected when Covid hit. However, we quickly switched to online lessons to keep our students plugged in and engaged. While we had to work triple time to rebuild our student registrations, our amazing team of teachers kept us going with their positive attitudes and encouragement. Every step of the way, Gate City Bank believed in us and listened to our needs as a business,” Lisa says. She adds, “We love our relationship with our business banker, Shane. He is always in our corner.”
When asked why it’s important to support small businesses, Lisa says, “Small businesses are the heart of North Dakota” – and prove anything is possible when communities band together.
“Conversations are better with coffee.”
That’s what Sandi Luck’s grandmother always told her, and for the past decade, the customers of Bully Brew Coffee couldn’t agree more.
In 2010, Sandi started Bully Brew Coffee in Grand Forks, ND. Named after her beloved bulldogs, the coffee house is known throughout the region for its coffee roasted fresh daily, delicious food and welcoming service with a smile. Over the past decade, the business has expanded to include additional locations in Fargo, ND, and East Grand Forks and Hallock, MN. Today Sandi also owns The Other Half Coffee & Taphouse and ND Coffee Roastery, which created the official coffee for the University of North Dakota, and most recently, the NDSU EveryDay Bison Blend.
When COVID-19 hit, Sandi says, “We closed a few days and had struggles, but we stayed positive. We saw the love from our community, and the team was always dedicated to staying open. We co-branded with other community partners and businesses, and we found new opportunities for growth in different ways.”
In fact, the roastery grew to the level of needing a new warehouse. Sandi credits that growth to the support of an incredible community, her amazing team and a lending hand from Gate City Bank. She recalls, “When I first opened the coffee houses, my dad was the one who ran the bank bags to Gate City Bank. To this day, my 83-year-old father will still ask about Emily – she was one of his favorite tellers who he loved to visit.”
She adds, “We love, love, love our tellers! Our bankers Darryl and Chelse have been exceptional to work with, too. They have assisted us with creating new accounts and loans, as well as finding resources in the community that I never would have even known about.”
If you’re thinking about starting your own small business, Sandi just has one piece of advice: “Find a mentor, and take in all you can. Learn and keep an open mind. Oh, and,” she laughs. “Find a great banker like Darryl.”
If there’s anything Ashley Morken has learned during her eight years of owning Unglued in downtown Fargo, it’s that arts and crafts are in high demand. This is especially true in the time of COVID-19.
There’s something amazing about providing a creative outlet that brings people together, even if it’s done virtually. Unglued has become known for hosting fun arts and crafts workshops, which are often led by local artisans and attended by customers from all over the country.
Ashley often thinks about how she left her job as a heart care nurse to start Unglued. While she will always cherish the positive impact she made in the health care field, her transition from cardiac to crafty has allowed her to give the community something it desperately needs – a healthy escape from stress.
“Small businesses like Unglued help define a community, grow the culture of that community and give people a sense of home and place,” Ashley says. “Unglued gives people a creative platform who otherwise wouldn’t have one, connecting them with the community through fun events.”
Since 2013, Lily’s Wings, Burgers & Things owners Kelli and Steve Ehlen have worked tirelessly to perfect their formula for culinary quality and efficiency. It consists of original recipes, local ingredients and a flaming desire to improve the well-being of their customers.
Like so many other business ventures, their restaurant located in St. Cloud, MN, started off small, having the capacity to serve one customer at a time. However, it persevered and grew in service capacity, quickly becoming a community icon known for not compromising quality or customer happiness.
The restaurant had begun pursuing a virtual ordering approach well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And during a difficult time when the community has craved the taste of normal, of happiness, of a delicious home-cooked meal, Lily’s Wings, Burgers & Things has served up plates of goodness.
“Small businesses are the economic engine of every community,” say Kelli and Steve. “We’re very grateful to have grown exponentially, thanks to forward thinking and a love for community – especially in these difficult times.”
The secret ingredient to the success of Prairie Sky Breads isn’t necessarily its locally based sourcing, creative recipes or rotating menu. It’s a dash of love in every dish, for every customer – since 2014.
After quietly entering the local farmers’ market scene, Prairie Sky Breads grew into a very successful business, quickly gaining a strong following in Minot, ND. Why? It’s fed the community with warm, delicious and affordable meals throughout COVID-19, and well before that.
Amid the pandemic, Prairie Sky Breads has offered one-dollar lunches to individuals or families who have felt the strain of unemployment, distance learning and other challenges. It’s a business model based on offering something as simple as a home-cooked meal to those who are hurting.
“We have a slightly different perspective on what it means to own and run a business,” says Travis Gerjets, Prairie Sky Breads Baker and co-owner. “It’s about community engagement, and we are truly part of a great community.”
Loving pet owners and furry little friends deserve to be together. That’s what Circle of Friends Animal Shelter believes, and it’s what the business fights for daily in Grand Forks, ND, and the surrounding area.
Whether it’s promoting pet-based food pantries, play groups or mental health services, Circle of Friends differentiates itself by fetching opportunities to create a better way of life in its surrounding communities. There’s beauty in uniting people with animals – especially when both are in great need.
For example, did you know Circle of Friends partners with Meals on Wheels? Many might be surprised to learn that clients for this charitable organization often share donated food with their also-hungry pets. Circle of Friends also assists in situations where pets have a unique medical need.
“Behind every pet is a person,” says Lauralee Tupa, CEO of Circle of Friends. “We’re here to listen, learn and grow to support these human-animal bonds.”
What could be better than playing vintage video games with your closest friends? How about pressing pause to snag a slice of award-winning New York-style pizza after hitting the high score?
This unique experience can be found at The CraftCade, a trendy restaurant and arcade that’s plugged into downtown Bismarck, ND. For the past year and a half, this small business has been a hotspot for customers who are feeling hungry, thirsty and nostalgic.
Of course, like many other small businesses, the rules of the game changed for CraftCade when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. However, The CraftCade adapted by practicing social distancing, encouraging face masks and cleaning gaming devices and other surfaces – all so customers can continue to play.
“Without small businesses, much of the money that people spend would leave the community and state,” say co-owners Colton Shoults and Nick Schwieters. “Small businesses like ours not only allow a community to exist, but to be a place where people can escape stresses of the real world to have fun.”
Angie Seidel has always had a passion for designing clothing. When she opened her own apparel business, GET OUTSIDE, she immediately knew it was the perfect fit.
Based out of Sauk Centre, MN, the GET OUTSIDE brand has become available in over 15 stores, including SCHEELS stores in the Minnesota communities of St. Cloud, Eden Prairie, Rochester and Mankato, as well as the SCHEELS location in Minot, ND. GET OUTSIDE is also available at other stores in St. Cloud and Alexandria, MN. It also has a strong online presence, which has been steady amid COVID-19.
This small business’s unique-yet-simple designs have proven to be incredibly popular. Its playful patterns and messages encourage community members to get out and do a number of activities, such as “G.O. Jump in a Lake,” “G.O. Explore” and “G.O. Fly a Kite.” It’s a fun schtick, and it’s taken off.
“Now more than ever, the importance of enjoying the outdoors and taking in all it has to offer is so important,” says Angie, who’s owned GET OUTSIDE for a year and a half. “Small businesses like this are important because they inspire growth, innovation and creativity in communities.”