Russ Kendall's Smokehouse begins cleanup after devastating fire

On Sunday morning, a fire ravaged Russ Kendall's Smokehouse, a celebrated North Shore restaurant along Highway 61 in Knife River.

The fire started near a water heater toward the back of the Smokehouse and worked its way through the production area. The bar and red storefront survived the fire, but faced severe smoke damage.

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"It's been a pretty devastating experience. When your whole family loses their jobs and you have all your eggs in one basket, you find out the downsides of a small family business," owner Gordy Olson says. "The whole family's in shock. We're just trying to get our bearings together and try to move about our life."

The fire inspection took place on Thursday afternoon and the Olson family was given permission to begin cleanup. They hope to reopen the restaurant as soon as possible, even if it means borrowing ovens from competitors, Gordy Olson says.

"We're working on opening it back up," Olson says. "I don't know how to do anything else. The family's been in business here for over a century."

Russ Kendall's Smokehouse was a Knife River staple and its loss has devastated the community.

"People are making donations," Olson says. "At this point in time, we've been relying on that. It's been great to see the outpouring of both help with the cleaning and [finances]. As far as donations, it's been humbling, to say the least. I've been quite surprised at how wonderful people can be and it makes you feel better about humanity as a whole."

The Smokehouse got its start in the 1920s when W.T. Kendall, the grandfather of Olson's wife, started selling his fish alongside the road. His son Russ Kendall, Kristi Olson's father, eventually took over the establishment, which now bears his name. Kristi and Gordy Olson stepped in when Russ Kendall passed away in 2007.

Andrew Zimmern featured Russ Kendall's Smokehouse on Bizarre Foods and included it in the number-one spot on his list of "12 Favorite Bites on the Road."

"I think the biggest thing for us is for people that [supported us] throughout the years to please not forget about us. We'll be back in business. Have patience, and we'll try to get back on our feet," Olson says.

The Olson family is currently accepting donations to help with the damages on Paypal.

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