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E&DD REVIEW – Azteca’s Mexican Grill Is A Fiesta for All Five Senses

Mike Busche

Photos by Mike Busche

Introducing Eat & Drink Duluth  (E&DD)
by Andrea Busche, the new Destination Duluth Foodie Editor. Andrea and her photographer husband, Mike, will be reviewing locally-owned restaurants and breweries.

Azteca’s Mexican Grill Is A Fiesta for All Five Senses

Every now and then, I experience a craving that simply must be satisfied – an intense longing that can only be extinguished with gooey melted cheese, crispy tortilla chips, creamy guacamole, and the sweet-tart delight of a potent Margarita

Yes, my friends, we are talking about the pleasures of Mexican cuisine. And boy, do we have a treat for you today.

We recently dined at Azteca’s Mexican Grill, located at 2224 Mountain Shadow Drive. While the restaurant is housed within a strip mall, you’d be remiss to judge a book by its cover.

Azteca's Mexican Grill is located in the Village Mall Plaza, across from the Miller Hill Mall off of Decker Rd. Photos by Mike Busche.

Inside, you’ll find an absolute fiesta of Mexican delights. The restaurant, owned and operated by Jenny Campante since 2016, is bright and cheerful, and the food is superb. Everything from the food and service to the music and atmosphere invokes feelings of a party – where you’re the guest of honor.

Please join us as we Eat & Drink Duluth – Azteca’s style!

The Vibe

We visited Azteca’s at 4 pm on a Tuesday (Taco Tuesday)! We intentionally arrived before the dinner rush to munch on some chips, leisurely sip a Marg, and get the lay of the land.

Warm tortilla chips with salsas and beans at Aztecas.

We were greeted promptly and led to a booth in the restaurant; Azteca’s has a spacious restaurant and a smaller bar area.

Upon arrival, we were the only patrons in the restaurant. But that changed by about 5 pm, when the restaurant began to fill up with college students, families, and a couple “ladies’ night out” tables.

Arriving early was quiet. The colorful dining area at Azteca's Mexican Grill later filled with patrons.

Our senses were instantly tickled with the festive sounds of Mariachi music, bright, cheerful décor, and delicious aromas coming from the kitchen. The combination of booths and tables are decked out in all colors of the rainbow, providing a joyful atmosphere.

We were soon greeted warmly by our server, Juan, who brought us a warm basket of thick tortilla chips, a side of refried beans, and two dishes of fresh salsa.

The Food

We kicked off our dining adventure by ordering our beverages. I told Juan I was craving a Margarita, and he recommended the Cadillac Margarita, made with Patron tequila and Grand Marnier. Yes, please.

Azteca's Cadillac Margarita

Mike opted for a cold, classic domestic: A Michelob Ultra. This would later prove a wise decision, to help extinguish the heat from his spicy meal.

The Marg – which packed a punch - was everything I had dreamed of. It was the perfect combo of sweet and tart, with a generous layer of coarse salt lining the rim. I didn’t really notice anything different with the addition of the Grand Marnier, which is a blend of fine cognac and bitter orange-flavored liqueur.

One of our neighboring tables ordered a jalapeno margarita. The drink was beautifully presented, with thin slices of fresh jalapenos floating in the glass.

Our neighbors ordered the Jalapeno Margarita

While we perused the menu, we dug into the chips, using them as vehicles to scoop up salsa and beans. The chips, which are on the thicker side, had a very satisfying crunch. The beans had a creamy, smoky flavor. And the salsa was more of a puree, featuring small chunks of white onions and cilantro.

The menu at Azteca’s is enormous. It features six pages of apps, enchiladas, combos, burritos, egg dishes, soups, salads, veggie dishes, pollo (chicken), mariscos (seafood), carnes (meat), American meals, a la carte items, postres (desserts), and even a “Little Amigos” menu. There are also daily specials. And a wide variety of beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are available.

Mike chose the fajita trio. From the menu:

Steak, chicken, and shrimp over sauteed onions and bell peppers. Served with rice, beans, and tortillas, and garnished with guacamole, sour cream, cheese, Pico de Gallo, and lettuce.

Azteca's Fajita Trio with shrimp, steak, and chicken

The enormous plate of fajitas arrived still sizzling and steaming. There was no shortage of protein between the plentiful strips of well-seasoned chicken and steak, and large portion of plump shrimp.

Underneath the meat was a tender, caramelized blend of white onions and green peppers. Thick slices of tender carrots rested atop the meat, which was an interesting ingredient I had never seen before. Patrons can choose either flour or corn tortillas; Mike chose a ½ and ½ combo.

While extremely flavorful, his fajitas were spicy. If you aren’t into spice, please mention it to your server, to request a milder preparation.

The fajitas also came with a giant serving of sides: lettuce, sour cream, pico, creamy and flavorful guac, fluffy Spanish rice and a side of refried beans. An entire meal in and of itself.

The sides served with Azteca's fajitas

I ordered the Enchijitas. From the menu:

Two quesadilla-style enchiladas stuffed with grilled chicken and steak. Topped with guajillo sauce and creamy crema sauce. Served with Pico de Gallo, lettuce, green onions, and whole pinto beans with rice.

Azteca's Enchijitas

This dish was scrumptious. One enchilada contained strips of steak, and was topped with a mild red sauce (guajillo). The other contained chicken and was topped with the crema sauce. Both enchiladas were topped with a generous portion of gooey, melted cheese.

The “whole pinto beans” were served in a liquid, and topped with cheese. They were tasty, and I had never seen this type of presentation before.

My dish was on the mild side, which I was grateful for. And I was glad to be able to share Mike’s plate of “extras,” mixing and matching each bite of enchilada with different permutations of pico, guac, sour cream, lettuce, rice, and beans. Heaven.

The portions at Azteca’s are absolutely huge, and we departed with tons of leftovers.

The Service

Our server, Juan Ramirez, was charming and more than willing to chat. Originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, Juan has been working at Azteca’s for a year.

Ricardo Corona (L) and our server Juan Ramirez (R)

Juan and some of the other servers we overheard interspersed their conversations with a few basic Spanish words that most patrons would understand (si; gracias). The experience felt like a welcoming celebration of Mexican culture, cuisine, and community.

Juan enthusiastically answered all our questions about the food and beverages with a positive, friendly attitude. He even agreed to a photo!

The Verdict

Azteca’s Mexican Grill offers authentic Mexican food at a great price. The portions are enormous and the service is wonderful. The vibe is festive and cheerful. And the Margaritas are a dream come true.

Perhaps we should use the clever quip Mike provided to summarize our experience:

“It was Juan-der-ful!”

To learn more, see a full menu, visit aztecasmexicangrillmn.com, or find them on Facebook.

About Andrea Busche, E&DD Editor

Andrea Busche is a Duluth and regional freelance writer credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications. Her food column, Local Pairings, was featured in Duluth.com magazine and later published in the Duluth News Tribune from 2016-2018.

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Duluth Playhouse’s Young Frankenstein is a Monster Hit!

It was a raucous evening of theater at the NorShor as the Duluth Playhouse opened their 2023-24 season with the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein. The opening night crowd came ready to laugh, and the stellar cast was prepared to give them every opportunity to chuckle, chortle, cackle, and often downright howl and roar at the ridiculous shenanigans onstage.

Mel Brooks’ wildly successful 1974 film Young Frankenstein, a cult black-and-white classic, was the inspiration for him to write the music and lyrics for his musical version that opened on Broadway in 2007.

Young Frankenstein at Duluth Playhouse NorShore runs now through October 1. Photo from Duluth Playhouse Facebook page.

When it went to London’s West End in 2017, the musical’s original creative team including Brooks himself, made some revisions and enhancements to the Broadway version. It is the celebrated West End version that the Playhouse used for their production.

In Young Frankenstein, Brooks made his signature use of every kind of humor possible: sight and running gags, physical comedy, puns, pratfalls, innuendos, double entendres, and often just plain naughty, bawdy, and occasionally downright raunchy dialogue and lyrics. The Playhouse cast does justice to them all, playing to an appreciative audience of both people who seemed to know almost every line and bit to first-timers.

With this musical, Brooks also wanted to parody Broadway-style tunes, Golden Age movie musicals, and Universal Films’ classic black-and-white monster and horror movies of the 1930s. While using the classic characters of Frankenstein lore, Brooks brings it to a second generation when a young Doctor Frankenstein, mortified by his father’s legacy, returns to Transylvania when he inherits the family castle.

Wes Drummond, Executive Director at the Playhouse, both directed and choreographed the show. His direction is crisp, sharp, and as Brooks intended, on-point with parodies of the original source material of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, and the later sequels of Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein.

Keeping the pace fast throughout, Drummond and his exceptional cast take the audience on a runaway ride of nonstop hilarity from start to finish. His choreography is equally on point, with its peak in the show’s signature tap-dancing mega-production number, “Putting On the Ritz,” that brought some of the opening night audience to their feet.

Leading the troupe of madcap players is Equity actor Kyle Weiler playing Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (or Fronkensteen, as the character repeatedly insists). Paying homage to the film’s young Frankenstein Gene Wilder, Weiler’s curly, wild mane of hair becomes an unbilled character in itself. Yet, he makes the role his own, without trying to be a carbon copy of Wilder’s performance..

Weiler is indeed a triple threat as a dancer, a singer, and an actor. A Julliard graduate in dance, and a veteran of the original Broadway cast and three National Tours of Hamilton (as a Universal Swing and Dance Captain), his every move is that of a dancer who is in complete control of the demanding physical aspects of the role, throwing his body around with wild abandon one minute and then dancing with complete finesse the next.

His voice is also completely up to the task, ranging from a fast almost rap style in “The Brain” and a leading man’s panache and power in “Frederick’s Soliloquy.”

Weiler is believable every second, acting a role that, in turns, requires him to be panicked and nearly maniacal, to tender and sweet, and then back to frenzy and despair. Always in command of every line, pitch, tone, gesture and nuance, Weiler’s performance was a true star turn for an actor who deserves more leading roles.

His sidekick Igor (or Eyegor as he also demands), played brilliantly by Sif Oberon, is the Doctor’s constant companion. Oberon is impressive in a physically demanding role, requiring them to be bent over and having to drag themself back and forth with alacrity across the stage as the Doctor’s faithful flunky.

Oberon doesn’t miss a beat with their accented delivery, grim and often menacing facial expressions, and having to keep track of the mysteriously shifting hump on their back. Again, while many in the audience were aware of Marty Feldman’s masterful performance of the character in the film, Oberon too does their own distinct take with the role.

The actresses who play the musical’s leading women’s roles are also on top of their games. Hope Nordquist plays Inga, the sexy assistant to the Doctor. She becomes an irresistible temptation to him from the first when she sings and yodels about the joys of a “roll in the hay” while the couple bounces around on a wild hayride to the castle.

Nordquist is a delightful foil to the Doctor’s uptight fiancée Elizabeth played by Lacy Sauter  Sauter has an incredible soprano voice, clearly showing her soaring range and power from playing major roles in both opera and theater.

Sauter’s acting chops are also on display when she goes from being a prude in her song “Please Don’t Touch Me” at the beginning of the show to a sex-crazed nymphomaniac at show’s end, after her “encounters” with the Monster with her song, the blush-inducing “Deep Love.”

Janet Rowney was an audience favorite, playing the castles’s mysterious housekeeper Frau Blücher whose very name induces wild, high-pitched whinnying from horses. Rowney’s hilarious Cabaret and Marlene Dietrich style song,“He Vas My Boyfriend,” laments her lost love, the original Dr. Frankenstein.

Recreating the iconic monster himself, Phillip Hoelscher had the “gigantic” task of walking on mile-high boots and making guttural vocalizations reflecting his emotions without saying a word. While lacking some of the monster’s beefier physicality, Hoelscher conveyed both the threatening and sweet nature of the bewildered creature.

Hoelscher’s standout laugh-inducing moment was in “Putting on the Ritz,” where, without giving too much away, he becomes the lead song and danceman, joined by the entire cast in true Broadway musical style.

Jeff Brown’s sets provide creative locales, varying from a boat dock, to the woods, from different locales in the creepy castle, to a hermit’s cottage. Brown designed each to be visually impressive and, at the same time, easy to shift to a new scene.

Brown’s lighting was another powerful contribution to the show’s success. Using everything from old-fashioned, footlight-style instruments, to atmospheric castle shadows, and the eerie lighting of the Doctor’s chamber of horrors, Brown’s evocative lighting kept the audience in the moment.

The only thing lacking was some sort of definitive electrification, major lighting style bolt going into the Monster’s body for that bringing him “alive” critical moment.

The show’s ensemble took advantage of chances to shine playing everything from medical students, to pitchfork-wielding villagers, to a Broadway chorus line.

Kudos to Peg Ferguson for creating gorgeous costumes for all the residents of Transylvania and for the leads, reflecting hours of work for her and her talented volunteer seamstresses.

Bravo to the wonderful orchestra, led by music director Kyle Picha, meeting the challenges of playing all the different styles of music that the score requires. Special mention to violin player Lian Ojakangas for some truly beautiful solos.

On a personal note

Sheryl Jensen is the Arts & Entertainment editor for Destination Duluth.

My first encounter with Young Frankenstein was in its pre-Broadway run in Seattle in 2007 which featured the Broadway cast of some amazing stars including Sutton Foster (Inga), Andrea Martin (Frau Blücher), and Megan Mullally (Elizabeth Benning).

The night I saw it, Mel Brooks himself was in the audience a few rows ahead of us, laughing uproariously at his own musical reboot of his movie classic. I think that Brooks, even at age 97, would find the Playhouse production as hilarious and audacious as his own.

Young Frankenstein at the Duluth Playhouse NorShor Theatre runs now through October 1. Get more information and tickets at destinationduluth.co/YoungFrankenstein

About Sheryl Jensen

A retired educator with the Duluth Public Schools, Sheryl Jensen has been a theater director of over 60 school and community productions. Her production of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew at East High School won the National High School Theater award from the BRAVO television network.

Having written theater, music, dance, and opera reviews for the Duluth News Tribune for many years, she now is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for Destination Duluth.

Next up for the Playhouse is the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, The Sound of Music, running December 1-17.

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Julie Ahasay Shines Onstage and in the Director’s Chair

Julie Ahasay has been a beloved member of the Twin Ports theater community for many years. Whether she is playing a comic or dramatic role onstage or directing shows for a number of area theater companies, Julie always brings her own magic to each production.

Born in Shell Lake Wisconsin, Julie grew up there and in the Twin Cities suburbs, graduating from Shell Lake High School.

She went to UWS where she majored in theatre and English and earned an MA in Communications Arts in theatre. “My college teachers had a profound effect on me. Al Katz, Ann Robb Taylor, Bill Stock and many others taught me to love literature, to have some discipline, and that ‘they are called plays for a reason.’”

After college, she worked in advertising, and public relations, taught Head Start, worked at a radio station, and spent many years teaching at the college level at UMD and St. Scholastica.

Julie playing the Nurse in “Romeo and Juliet,” Wise Fool Shakespeare, 2016. Photo submitted.

“I taught public speaking and interpersonal communication at UMD, and human communication, intercultural communication, advertising, and public relations and in the first-year student program at St. Scholastica,” she said. “I have also taught for the Playhouse Conservatory.”

Of her home life and time away from the theater, she said, “I’m married to the loving and supportive Lane Ellis. We live near Chester Bowl with three cats: Kukla, Twister and Arlo. I love to garden, hike, read, and ignore messes in my house.”

Julie and Lane on the Superior Hiking Trail. Photo submitted. 

Julie and Lane enjoy traveling. Naming some of their favorite destinations, she said, “We loved the beaches on Kauai, the green beauty of Ireland, the Cotswolds, all of Edinburgh, and The Shambles in York.”

Playing Diverse Roles

Julie recalls, “My first theatre experience was in 5th grade where I played a kid who ate too much turkey and had a nightmare. We had class plays in high school, but no regular theatre program.”

In college, she was in “Medea,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “ Ah, Wilderness” and “The Zoo Story,” among others. “From the start, what I loved most about theatre was collaborating with others to tell stories,” she said.

“Dear Elizabeth” with Jason Scorich, Renegade Theater, 2018

When asked about some of her favorite roles that she has played, she replied, “Elizabeth Bishop in ‘Dear Elizabeth’ at Renegade, ‘Shirley Valentine’ (thesis project for grad school), and Aunt Eileen in ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ at the Duluth Playhouse. Also, the Nurse in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for Wise Fool, and various characters throughout the Colder by the Lake years.”

Many Stages, Many Shows

Julie has directed on many stages and for a variety of organizations. “Picking a favorite of the shows that I have directed is nearly impossible. I have really enjoyed working on new scripts: ‘Annapurna,’ ‘Grace,’ ‘Other Desert Cities,’ and the ‘The Pavilion.’

“But I am very fond of nearly every show I’ve directed,” she added. “I particularly enjoy small, character-driven works that ask the audience to think and feel deeply. I also love the sound of laughter from an audience.”

She said, “My first directing gig at the Playhouse was ‘The Secret Garden.’ I hadn’t directed anything of that scale, and I’d never directed a musical. It was terrifying and wonderful. Sitting in the audience on opening night and watching the work we did was a truly great night.”

Julie enjoying coffee and pastry in Quebec City. (Submitted photo)

Theatrical Inspirations

“I am grateful for the classic Hollywood films where I saw women like Rosalind Russell, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwick and Myrna Loy be beautiful, glamorous and hilarious.”

Of shows she was inspired by, she said, “I loved the Renegade production of ‘The Sparrow’ for the beauty of the story and the inventive staging. UMD’s ‘Singing in the Rain’ was non-stop fun, and my face hurt from smiling so much. The Guthrie invited a British theatre company to bring its production of ‘Brief Encounter’ to Minneapolis, and it was so deeply moving and so creative in its presentation, that I find myself thinking about it quite often.

What’s Next?

Julie is in rehearsal for Boat Club Productions, “Love Letters” by A.J. Gurney, a charming two character show with Julie playing Melissa Gardner and Michael Kraklio playing Andrew Makepeace Ladd III The couple’s evolving relationship is revealed through letters they write to each other from the time they are children.

“Love Letters” A Lifetime of Letters Reveal a Bittersweet Love Story

“With this show I hope to create a real person moving through a life full of joys and challenges. I hope audience members will see themselves in the character.”

In describing what she thinks people should take away from this show, Julie noted, “Love lasts. It gets pushed, shoved, challenged, and ignored, but it’s always there.”

Up next for Julie theatrically is the direction of “Murder on the Orient Express” at the Norshor in January, and next May, she’ll be directing POTUS for Zeitgeist Theater.

She is also excited for her next travel adventure. She said, “Right after this show closes, Lane and I are heading to Amsterdam, Delft, Bruges, Brussels, and visiting friends near Reading, UK.”

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Dirk Meyer is DSSO’s Inspirational Music Director


German-born Dirk Meyer is celebrating his 10th year with the DSSO. Photo submitted.

Charles Munch, the French-German conductor best known as the Boston Symphony Orchestra music director, said, “The conductor must breathe life into the score. It is you and you alone who must expose it to the understanding, reveal the hidden jewel to the sun at the most flattering angles.”

As the Music Director for the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra (DSSO)  since 2013, Dirk Meyer has been breathing life into scores and revealing the hidden jewels of the music in each concert ever since.

This year marks the 10th DSSO season for Meyer, and it will be a celebration of both him and all the wonderful music he and the DSSO have made together.

Extensive Resume

Meyers is originally from Dusseldorf, Germany. He received his Bachelor’s Degrees in music from the Folkwang Conservatory in Germany and the University Duisburg-Essen for philosophy. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts and Masters degrees in orchestral conducting from Michigan State University,

He explained, “I originally moved to the U.S. to pursue my graduate studies, thinking that I’d probably be back in Germany after four or five years. That was 21 years ago.”

After completing his graduate studies at Michigan State, Meyer served as Music Director to the Sarasota Youth Orchestras, giving his Carnegie Hall debut in New York City with the Sarasota Youth Philharmonic in 2008. Meyer also served as Associate Conductor, and later Principal Guest Conductor, of the Sarasota Orchestra in Florida.

Dirk Myer thought he would return to Germany after his studies in America. Photo submitted.

Other appointments have included Assistant positions with the Traverse Symphony (MI) and Missouri Symphony Orchestras and the Music Director position with the Mason Symphony Orchestra in Michigan. In 2012, Meyer was named the winner of The American Prize in orchestral conducting.

Outside of North America, Meyer has conducted many orchestras in Europe and abroad, including appearances in South Africa, the Czech Republic and Germany. In the operatic world, he has led performances of Carmen and Don Giovanni with the Plovdiv Opera in Bulgaria and served as Assistant Conductor to the Michigan State University Opera Theatre.

Besides being the DSSO Music Director, Meyer is currently Music Director of the Augusta Symphony Orchestra. In Duluth, he is also Music Director of the Lyric Opera of the North (LOON).

“When moving to Duluth, I was very fortunate to quickly become friends with Sarah Lawrence and Cal Metts, the Artistic Directors of LOON. Lucky for me, they appreciated my love for opera and my desire to work with singers, and I soon became Music Director of that company. We have worked on many productions since. I have loved every single one of them!”

Welcomed in Duluth

Of his path to Duluth, Meyer explained, “In 2011, the DSSO started the search for a new Music Director. I knew our former principal flutist from conducting in Orlando, where she played as well. She mentioned this search to me and raved about the orchestra and the community. Of course, that got me intrigued, and I was thrilled as I progressed in the search. After I had visited Duluth for the first time during my audition process, I was sold! A great orchestra in a wonderful community, in the most amazing natural setting: What more could I ask for?”

“From my first arrival in Duluth, the Twin Ports have been welcoming and supportive to me, my family and, of course, the DSSO. The support we get from our patrons is simply wonderful,” said Meyer.

He added, “Look at this past season: After a long Covid hiatus, the community came out again to support their orchestra! We had two sell-outs last season, and another one just now in August with Jurassic Park.”

Orchestral Memories

When asked about some of his most memorable concerts with the DSSO, he replied, “There are so many! To me, many of our most memorable concerts have involved our wonderful chorus – another fantastic group of musicians that we are fortunate to have as part of our family. It is thanks to the combined artistry of chorus and orchestra, as well as the amazing chorus repertoire, that these concerts were so special. Our performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 comes to mind, for example.”

Dirk Myers has many memorable moments with the DSSO. Photo submitted.

He added, “Then there were unforgettable moments with some of our guest artists. Working with our concertmaster Erin Aldridge as soloist every year is a treat.  Finally, there were those concerts with those inexplicable moments where the audience and musicians collectively hold their breaths. Those are experiences that stay with us, like when we performed the Brahms’ Violin Concerto with Geneva Lewis or our Michael Tippett’s A Child of our Time.”

Home Time

While he is incredibly busy with his crowded concert and opera calendar, he especially enjoys family time and time in the kitchen. “I love to cook and try new things in the kitchen. It’ll mostly be dishes from Germany, but also some other cuisines and anything that can be prepared on the grill. I absolutely love Indian cuisine and would love to learn more about that as well.”

Dirk’s wife Paula is from Fosston, Minnesota. She started as a lawyer with a firm in Duluth and then switched to a Minneapolis-based law firm, where she works remotely.

Dirk and Paula have two little boys, Sebastian (4) and Felix (3), who keep the couple busy. Both of the boys have just started soccer.

Dirk and his wife Paula and their sons, Sebastian and Felix. Photo submitted.

Meyer said that his kids’ musical tastes now are consumed by “music” from “Spider-Man” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Sebastian will soon start on his first instrument, the piano. Dirk was adamant that he would not be his son’s piano teacher, since as “Dad,” it would be hard to be taken seriously.

“I am the only one from my family who lives in the U.S. My mother, sister, cousins all live in Germany. That’s why we try to visit every year so that the kids can grow up knowing their Grandma and extended German family,” Meyer said. “In addition, they are growing up bilingual and spending time in Germany and visiting a kindergarten while there is amazing for their language development.”

Dirk and his two sons, Sebastian and Felix. Photo submitted.

He said, “The kids are still a bit young, but my wife very much enjoys music and visiting my concerts. She is also an active board member of the Lyric Opera of the North. We also have two little dogs, Harvey and Teddy, who like to take us on at least two walks a day.”

Orchestral Music For Everyone

Recreating his first concert in Duluth ten years ago, pianist Orion Weiss will perform with the orchestra. Photo submitted.

“Orchestras around the globe have not been very good at communicating the experience that they can deliver,” said Meyer. “Most people still think that an orchestral concert is a stuffy affair and something that their parents or grandparents enjoyed. In most cases, those same people have never been to a symphonic concert. If someone loves music (of any kind) and enjoys sharing an experience with other people around them, they should try out the orchestra! I am convinced they will be surprised how welcoming, open and fun it is.”

Meyer invites everyone to enjoy this season’s concerts. To kick off the season, they bring back pianist Orion Weiss to perform the Grieg Piano Concerto with the orchestra – just as he did ten years ago for Meyer’s first concert as Music Director with the DSSO.

For more information about DSSO concerts and tickets, visit dsso.com











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Alex Messenger, grizzly bear attack survivor, writes WSJ best seller

Alex Messenger is a Photographer and Writer...
and Survivor of a Grizzly Bear Attack

Alex Messenger. Submitted photo.

In terms of pure life experience, 35-year-old Alex Messenger is already a wizened soul.

He is a happily married man, and father to two beautiful children – a four-year-old son, Orson, and a newborn daughter, Ayla. He is both a published author and a prolific photographer. Messenger had the amazing opportunity to work for Jim Brandenburg, the world-famous National Geographic photographer based in Ely.

And, oh yes; in 2005, at age 17, he survived being mauled by a grizzly bear.

There in the Canadian wilderness, Messenger was left unconscious and clinging to life. If the bear’s tooth had landed just 1/4” away from where he was bitten, it would have punctured Messenger’s femoral artery, and he would have perished in minutes.

Messenger is undoubtedly one hardy dude who somehow retains an excellent sense of humor about it all. When his son, Orson, was born, Messenger and his wife, Lacey, chose their first-born child’s name with intention - and more than a touch of irony.

“Orson means ‘bear cub’ in French,” he explained. “We just thought it was a fun connection to my history. And, believe it or not, a bear crossed the road when we were bringing Orson home from the hospital.”

Alex Messenger and his wife, Lacey with son Orson (4) and newborn Alya. Photo by Shellie Severson Photography.


Messenger was born and raised in Minnetonka. He and his sister were raised in a fun, adventurous household.

His parents, Skip and Phyllis, both worked in academia. But they also did archeological fieldwork, and the family took several “study abroad” trips to places like Central America, Mexico, and Southeast Asia. These adventures had an immense impact on young Messenger.

“I recognize how unique and privileged I was to have these experiences,” he said. “In a situation outside my comfort zone, I learned about the world around me and myself.”

His first experience with photography was on one of these trips - to Mexico. “At the time, I just had a Nikon point-and-shoot camera, but I found that taking photos helped me be more engaged with the journey.”

The Messenger family also enjoyed plenty of local adventures. They often camped at state and national parks, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). “It was amazing to get to experience the beauty of the north woods,” he noted. “Both to visit, but also as a subject to photograph and be inspired by.”

While in middle school, he got his first digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 775. While it was a simple, entry-level camera, the instant feedback helped spur what would become a lifelong love of photography. When he was attending Minnetonka High School, Messenger took advantage of the robust photography program, and picked up plenty of skills using his high school’s dark room and studio space.

Later, Messenger attended Gustavus Adolphus College, earning a Bachelor’s degree in studio art with a minor in writing and English.


After college graduation, Messenger got a job in customer service at National Camera Exchange in Golden Valley. He got the opportunity to meet award-winning photographer Jim Brandenburg through one of his parents’ colleagues, who was involved in making a documentary about Brandenburg’s life. This turned out to be a life-changing meeting.

“I ended up showing Jim my work, and he was very encouraging,” Messenger said. “Years later, I ran into him again and he told me he was looking for a fine art printer and assistant. It was a really great opportunity.”

Photo by Alex Messenger. Submitted.

Messenger moved to Ely, where he worked for Brandenburg for three years. He also spent time at Brandenburg’s Moose Lake retreat, called Ravenwood. During these years, Messenger picked up an array of photography- and business-related skills from his mentor.

He moved to Duluth in 2011, to build a life with his future wife, Lacey. Messenger spent a tremendous amount of time in the car in those years, commuting back and forth from Ely.

Making a home in Duluth was never a question for Messenger. “Lacey is from Duluth originally – her parents owned the Popcorn Wagon in Canal Park. And I’ve always had a special connection to Duluth and the North Shore.”

"I had the Two Harbors lighthouse all to myself on this night, and the skies danced for hours." Photo by Alex Messenger.


Messenger’s career has included a few hops, but all his roles have revolved around marketing and communications. After his three transformative years working for Brandenburg, Messenger was hired at Frost River, where he remained from 2014 - 2018. There, he was an intern, a technical writer, and later a digital marketing manager.

From 2018 – 2022, he worked at St. Luke’s as a marketing and communications specialist. And in 2022, he was hired at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) as a communication specialist, where he works in public relations and provides writing and photography for the University.

He also maintains a robust photography business. “My niche is as a ‘feature photographer,’” he explained. “I try to tell a story through my photos. I love taking landscapes, photos of Lake Superior, local rivers, the BWCA, and environmental portraits.”

Messenger recommends that budding photographers go out and get started. “It’s easy to get hung up on the gear, but you can do a lot with whatever you have,” he shared.

“I would suggest trying to shoot with a prime lens with no zoom. They can be inexpensive and the single perspective forces you to think creatively and be more engaged.”

These days, Messenger mostly uses a Nikon Z7 – a full-frame, mirrorless camera with fantastic image quality, a lot of dynamic range and an array of fast, modern lenses. He also uses a Leica M Rangefinder, a compact camera with a manual focus and aperture. “It helps me be more connected with what I’m doing,” he noted.

Messenger also volunteers his time with the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, which he has done for the last decade.

Grizzly Bear Attack

In 2005, at age 17, Messenger was on a canoe trip in northern Canada with five other young men. On the 29th day of a 42-day adventure, Messenger was mauled by a grizzly bear.

Alex Messenger (L) was on a 2005 Canadian canoe trip with his friends when a Grizzly bear attacked him on the twenty-ninth day. Photo submitted.

“I went off on a hike on a ridge by myself,” he explained. “I had no idea a 600-pound grizzly bear was right there. I didn’t have my bear spray – it was back at camp. I used my training and spoke calmly and slowly backed away, but the bear saw me as a threat that it had to neutralize. It charged me and attacked, leaving me unconscious.”

Ultimately, playing dead saved Messenger’s life. Once the bear was convinced the threat was neutralized, it retreated. Dazed and bleeding, Messenger somehow made it back to camp, where he could receive medical attention. As noted earlier, things almost ended quite differently.

“Thankfully, the bleeding was controllable,” he said. “If I had been bitten ¼” in a different location, I would have died.”

Today, Messenger still has a bit of soreness on his leg where he was bitten. But the psychological effects have been tougher to overcome. “It took a long time to move past that,” he said. “To this day, I still have a heightened startle response.”

The Twenty-Ninth Day

Messenger turned his harrowing experience into a book, The Twenty-Ninth Day, published in 2019 by Blackstone Publishing, an independent publisher based in Oregon. He also performed the audio book’s narration.

The Twenty-Ninth Day, by Alex Messenger. Photo submitted.

The book, available in hardcover, paperback, e-Book, and audiobook, has received some very lofty recognition; it was a Wall Street Journal bestseller and a 2020 Minnesota Book Award finalist. The Twenty-Ninth Day – a must-read for all adventurers - is available on Amazon, and everywhere fine books are sold.

Messenger is currently hard at work on another book. His second tome will be a survival-themed novel centered around Lake Superior.

Alex Messenger at Twenty-Ninth Day book launch at Fitger's in Duluth. Facebook photo.

Family Life

The Messenger family (including their Havanese dog, Hartley) lives in Duluth’s Woodland neighborhood. Lacey works at Essentia Health as a physician assistant specializing in cardiology.

The family enjoys spending plenty of time outdoors in their free time. “I love that I can hop on my mountain bike and get on a single track right from my garage,” Messenger noted. “Or we can load up the family and go to a paved trail like the Lakewalk or Munger.”

Messenger also enjoys hiking and trail running, which he usually combines with photography.

Photo by Alex Messenger. Submitted.

Storyteller at Heart

Whether it’s through writing books or taking photos, Alex Messenger has many stories to share with the world. “I’m really motivated by storytelling, and I feel so fortunate that I can do that through my photography and writing,” he said.

“Beyond that,” he added, “Lacey and I want to provide our kids with fulfilling experiences. We enjoy seeing the world again through their eyes.”

To learn more, please visit alexmessenger.com.

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Playhouse Executive Director Wes Drummond left NYC for Duluth


Wes Drummond Brings ‘Young Frankenstein’ to Life at NorShor Theatre Sept 15-Oct 1 

Wes Drummond is truly a man of the theater, with a wealth of experience in acting, directing, teaching, choreographing, and lecturing; he brings all that expertise to his current “role” as Executive Director at the Duluth Playhouse. In May 2021, amid a worldwide pandemic shutting theatres, Drummond left New York City to come to Duluth.

Drummond earned a BFA in Performing Arts from Western Kentucky University and an MFA in Directing from Pennsylvania State University.

Wes Drummond is the Executive Director of Duluth Playhouse. Photo submitted.

He has directed and choreographed for several professional theaters, including McLeod Summer Playhouse; Manhattan Repertory Theatre; and West Village Musical Theater Festival; as well as for University theaters, including Penn State, Southern Illinois, DePaul, and Western Kentucky.

Drummond has assisted Tony Award winner Matthew Warchus and Tony Award nominees Michael Greif and Susan H. Schulman.

Wes on the roof of his NYC apartment. Photo submitted.


Wes with his dog Candy. Photo submitted.

Inspiring Theatrical Experiences

He recalls that his love of theater began in high school when he performed  in a production of “Once Upon a Mattress.”

“The school play needed more guys, and my close friend convinced me to be a part of it,” he said. “I was terrified, but I did it because whoever was in the school play that year, was invited to go on a trip to New York City. I had the best time of my life doing the show and made a ton of friends. I knew right away that theatre people were my people.”

“My favorite role I have played is Claude Hooper Bukowski in the musical ‘Hair’ at McLeod Playhouse. It had a lot to do with the tribe members in the show. I fell in love with a group of people all at the same time. A lot of the actors from that production are still my closest friends today.”

He said his second favorite role would be playing Homer Collins in the Adam Guettel musical ‘Floyd Collins’ at Kentucky Repertory Theatre. “That show is such a brilliant take on bluegrass music,” he explained.

“The most incredible part of that experience was that Kentucky Rep is located in Cave City, KY, just a few miles from the Great Sand Cave where the story took place. We actually had some of the Collins family attend a performance,” Drummond noted.

He added, “I also really enjoyed playing Benjamin Pontipee in the national tour of ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.’ That show pushed me more as a dancer than any show ever has. I grew a lot and built a lot of stamina out on the road and was able to visit thirty states in six months. It was an exhausting and thrilling adventure.”

Wes Drummond As Benjamin in tour of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. Photo submitted

Wes Drummond Brings ‘Young Frankenstein’ to Life
A Monstrous Musical

For the Duluth Playhouse, Drummond has directed and choreographed “Little Women,” choreographed “The SpongeBob Musical,” and directed “Make Believe.’” He is currently directing and choreographing “Young Frankenstein.”

Of his current show, he said, “‘Young Frankenstein’ is right on brand for me. Nothing says ‘Wes Drummond’ like a big musical comedy.”

“My goal with this production is to make audiences laugh so hard that they forget where they are until they snap back to reality standing on their feet at the NorShor Theatre,” he said. “This show is ridiculous, campy, strange, sexy, goofy, smart, and over-the-top fun. I can't think of a better show to open Duluth Playhouse's 23/24 Season.”

He added, “The dancing in this show is athletic and fast. There are multiple dialects depending on the character. The humor is very specific, referencing the Mel Brooks' film, combined with a classic heightened Broadway humor. There is a rhythm to the show that requires impeccable pacing and delivery. The script requires a lot of problem-solving from the entire team.”

“The characters also require individual physicality. The actor playing Igor must walk around hunched over the entire show, while the actor playing Frankenstein's monster spends the show in five-inch platform shoes.”

Drummond explained that the cast comprises 14 local actors and 2 guest actors from the Twin Cities. One of the guest actors, Sifryn Oberon, used to live in Duluth. This production employs nine local musicians and an entirely local creative and production team.

Kyle Weiler , who plays the lead role of Frederick Frankenstein in the production, is a Minnesota native and a graduate of The Juilliard School. “Kyle has a pretty epic resume, including performing as the universal swing for the Broadway and touring productions of ‘Hamilton.’ This is his first production with the Playhouse,” said Drummond.

Drummond added, “Directing ‘Young Frankenstein’ at the Duluth Playhouse might take the award for the most hilarious rehearsal process yet! I am having a blast with this show. The cast is a generous, vulnerable, hysterical group of disciplined theatre artists. I look forward to rehearsal every night at the NorShor, and I am most excited about listening to the audience's reaction to the performances.”

For a preview of Young Frankenstein, go here. For ticket information, go here

Wes Drummond (Executive Director Duluth Playhouse) and Philip Fazio (Producing Artistic Director). Photo submitted.  

Up next for the Duluth Playhouse Is “The Sound of Music” December 1-17.

Drummond will be directing and choreographing the musical “Next to Normal” for the Playhouse, running  March 15-31.


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Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN to come alive at Duluth Playhouse

Duluth Playhouse Young Frankenstein

Mel BrooksYOUNG FRANKENSTEIN to come alive at Duluth Playhouse

The Duluth Playhouse is thrilled to open its upcoming 2023-2024 season with the monstrously hilarious musical comedy “Young Frankenstein”, running September 15 to October 1, 2023 at the historic NorShor Theatre.

Frederick, a bright young brain surgeon and the grandson of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Chaos and laughter ensue when Frederick inherits his family estate in Transylvania and finds himself drawn into his grandfather's mad experiment to reanimate the dead. Played by Kyle Weiler. Photo by Duluth Playhouse.

“Choosing the opening production of the new season always takes a large amount of consideration,” says Playhouse Executive Director, Wes Drummond. “This year we decided to launch the season with a big musical comedy. Young Frankenstein is easily one of the funniest pieces of musical theater out there. I am absolutely excited to be directing this show. Whether you love the film or haven’t seen it, this stage production is a guaranteed evening of uncontrollable laughter at the NorShor.”

Igor (pronounced "Eye-gor," as he insists), an eccentric and indispensable companion on Frederick's journey to bring a corpse to life. When you see our production of Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, this hunchbacked lab assistant will charm you with his witty one liners and mischievous personality! Played by Sifryn Oberon. Photo by Duluth Playhouse

Adapted from the classic Mel Brooks film masterpiece, Young Frankenstein is a wickedly funny musical filled with eccentric characters, uproarious antics, and unforgettable musical numbers. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a bright young brain surgeon and the grandson of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein, finds himself on a madcap misadventure when he inherits his family's Transylvanian estate.

As he works to complete his grandfather’s legacy by bringing a corpse to life, hilarity ensues when he encounters Igor, an eccentric hunchbacked sidekick played by Sifryn Oberon (star of Duluth Playhouse’s Curious Incident), and Inga, a charming lab assistant played by Hope Nordquist (recently seen in Kinky Boots and Into the Woods). Amidst the chaos, surprising secrets are revealed by the stern housekeeper Frau Blücher, played by Janet Rowney, who is excitedly returning to the stage for the first time since the pandemic.

Frau Blücher (cue horse whinny), the mysteriously hilarious housekeeper of the Frankenstein estate whose mere presence sends shivers down the spines of all who dare to enter. Played by Janet Rowney. Photo by Duluth Playhouse.

Kyle Weiler, a Minneapolis actor who performed in the Broadway and touring companies of Hamilton, will make his Duluth Playhouse debut as the titular character. Also in the cast are local favorites Phillip Hoelscher as The Monster, Lacy Sauter as Elizabeth Benning, Joe Meichsner as Inspector Hans Kemp, and Ben LaBerge as The Hermit. The villagers will be played by Kristen Hylenski, Jennie Ross, Alyson Enderle, Brianna Hall-Nelson, Jake Mathey, Kyle McMillian, and Antony Ferguson, and SJ Olson.

Inga, Frederick's yodeling young lab assistant who enjoys a good roll in the hay. Don't miss the Playhouse's upcoming Main Stage production of MEL BROOKS' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN! Played by Hope Nordquist. Photo by Duluth Playhouse.

Young Frankenstein is an electrifying experience from the creators of Broadway‘s hit comedy, The Producers, that is guaranteed to leave audiences in stitches.

Tickets are now on sale. To book seats, visit the box office at the NorShor Theatre Monday through Friday 10am-5pm, call 218-733-7555, or visit: destinationduluth.co/YoungFrankenstein


September 15 – October 1, 2023

Thurs – Sat @ 7:30pm

Sat, Sep 16 @ 2pm

Sun, Sep 24 @ 2pm

Sun, Oct @ 2pm


ASL Interpreted performance: Sep 29 @ 7:30pm. Interpreters: Rebecca Rick & Emily Engel


Creative Team:

Director/Choreographer: Wes Drummond (he/him)

Music Director: Kyle Picha (he/him)

Assistant Choreographer: Alyson Enderle (she/her)

Stage Manager: Ria Takhar (she/her)



Dr. Frederick Frankenstein – Kyle Weiler* (he/him)
The Monster – Phillip Hoelscher (he/him)
Igor – Sifryn Oberon (they/them)
Inga – Hope Nordquist (she/her)
Elizabeth Benning – Lacy Sauter (she/her)
Frau Blücher – Janet Rowney (she/her)
Inspector Hans Kemp – Joe Meichsner (he/him)
The Hermit – Ben LaBerge (he/him)

Villagers – Alyson Enderle (she/her), Antony Ferguson (he/him), Brianna Hall-Nelson (she/her), Kristen Hylenski (she/her), Jake Mathey (he/him), Kyle McMillian (he/him), SJ Olson (they/them), and Jennie Ross (she/her)


Dance Captain – Antony Ferguson (he/him)


* Denotes Member of Actors' Equity Association

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Newbie Photographer Adam Bjornberg Is Crushing It

Adam Bjornberg MN State Fair Award Winner

Artic Arrival - MN State Fair Award Winner, by Adam Bjornberg. Bjornberg Photography 

Destination Duluth
Photographer Profile Series

Adam Bjornberg - Bjornberg Photography
Creating Plenty of Buzz with his Captivating Local Images

Photographer Adam Bjornberg – owner of Bjornberg Photography – has accomplished a lot in a short period of time. And a recent accolade provided an extra-special surprise.

Bjornberg was a first-time entrant in the 2023 Minnesota State Fair’s Minnesota Fine Arts exhibition. To his great surprise, he won! His impressive photo of the ship Arthur M Anderson earned Bjornberg the Anne & Litton Field Excellence in Photography Award - one of the exhibit’s top awards.

Despite being relatively new to photography, Bjornberg’s captivating images – including maritime and shipping activity, along with outdoor landscapes - are creating a lot of buzz. In addition to the special recognition at the State Fair, Bjornberg has won other awards, enjoyed a month-long exhibition at a Minnesota state park, and had several photos selected for publication.

“It’s been a wild couple of years,” he noted. “And, it all fell into place once I moved to Duluth. That really sparked my passion for photography.”


Bjornberg grew up in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota, and graduated from White Bear Lake High School in 2011. The eldest of four siblings, he enjoyed ice hockey, baseball, and golf in his youth. The family spent plenty of time together in Duluth during Bjornberg’s ice hockey tournaments.

He first became interested in photography in his youth. “I took a couple of photography classes in high school, and got to work with film in the dark room,” he explained. “But at that time, I didn’t have a lot of money to invest in photography.”

Thankfully, Bjornberg later learned that taking successful photos is more about having talent and a good eye than owning expensive equipment.

Bucket List Shot - By Adam Bjornberg. Bjornberg Photography. My adrenaline was maxed as I waited for this moment! The U.S. Navy Blue Angels flying directly over the Duluth aerial lift bridge! They came down the shoreline, banked directly down Lake Ave and then over the bridge! The Angels departed today for Milwaukee, WI.

Bjornberg attended the University of North Dakota – Grand Forks, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental geography with an emphasis in geographic information systems (GIS). Bjornberg also met his fiancée, Kennedy Fenster, while the two were students at UND.

Moving to Duluth

In February 2019, Bjornberg was hired at SkySkopes, a Geospatial service provider. As a remote sensing project lead, he plans flights and receives and processes data captured by drone and helicopter pilots.

Both Bjornberg and Fenster have always loved Duluth and had long considered moving here. She is originally from Bismarck, North Dakota, but, like Bjornberg, she also made childhood trips here. And during college, the couple enjoyed several short getaways to Duluth.

Fortunately, Bjornberg works remotely and was able to make the leap. And, Fenster soon landed a job at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, as an Office Administrator. The couple moved here in December 2019.

“We’re both really outdoorsy people,” he noted. “We’ve taken five-day backcountry trips in Montana, and Duluth was like a stepping point – it feels like a small-scale mountain town. I’ve always had an interest in being by the water, and love the nautical, lake feel.”

Trucking Along - By Adam Bjornberg. Bjornberg Photography  It was a busy night here in Duluth! Bon Iver held a concert at Bayfront Park, Glensheen had their concert on the pier and the weekly sail races took place. The waters were busy and pictured here the USCGC Sundew (now privately owned) went out for a short trip out on the lake. Leading the Sundew in was a custom pontoon from local transportation company Jeff Foster.


Getting back into photography was initially a way for Bjornberg to make new friends. “It was hard to meet people here,” he said. “We moved here during COVID, and I work remotely.”

He began by taking some basic images, using basic equipment. “It all started with my iPhone, taking pictures and videos and posting them on my personal Facebook page. I was fascinated with the shipping industry and joined the Lake Superior Ports and Shipping Facebook group.

“I continued sharing my work and people commented, saying they liked my eye for photography,” he added. “That led me to buy my first camera and lens – a Canon 6D camera, and a 70-200mm lens.

“Eventually, I found people who tagged Duluth on social media,” he noted. “I asked them to join in for photo shoots and now I have friends who are photographers of all age groups.”

Heading Out Front Cover Summer 2023 issue of North Star Port.  Photo by Adam Bjornberg. Bjornberg Photography   There was some nice color this morning when you weren't looking directly into the sun. Here the Michipicoten was making her way to the canal and just before going under the lift bridge.


Interestingly, despite only having a couple of years of experience, Bjornberg has already found much success. His photos have over 2 million views on Destination Duluth’s Facebook page. He sells his photos on SmugMug. His 2023 Ships on Lake Superior can be purchased here. A local business – Harbor Rail Pub, Loft & Events, in Two Harbors – has several of his images on display.

Bjornberg was invited to display his images for a month-long exhibition at Split Rock Lighthouse in August 2022, and his photos were also available for purchase at the gift shop. Four of his photos were selected for publication in the 2023 calendar for the Interlake Steamship Company. And he took 1st and 3rd place in a photo contest for the 2021 Great Lakes Seaway Partnership.

He's also had the opportunity to be a part of some really fun gigs, thanks to the connections he’s made from photography. “Last year I was asked to join ice-breaking operations around the harbor on board the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Hollyhock,” he explained. “I also got to be a part of welcoming Resko, the first saltie (ocean-going) vessel of the year. This entailed going onboard, meeting some of the crew, and seeing the loading operations of grain. I was privileged to document the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul commissioning ceremony.

Bjornberg aboard the USS Minneapolis St Paul. Photo by David Schauer

“With this, I was involved in media day, and got to tour the brand-new Navy warship as well as attend the ceremony as a photographer,” he added. “Lastly, I was asked if I wanted to capture the first cruise ship arrival in 13 years this summer, from the aerial lift bridge [with the bridge operator]. All of these experiences have been from my photography, and ones that I will surely not forget!”

Viking Octantis entering the Duluth port. By Adam Bjornberg. Bjornberg Photography 

Beginning in June 2023, Bjornberg began a collaboration with Duluth-based Zenith Adventure. Through this partnership, Zenith will sell a selection of Bjornberg’s prints in their store.

As noted, another amazing recognition was earned at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair. Here, Bjornberg submitted his photo of the Arthur M Anderson for consideration at the Minnesota Fine Arts exhibition. Simply being accepted was an achievement in and of itself. But he was pleased to learn he won the Anne & Litton Field Excellence in Photography Award; one of the exhibit’s top awards.

Adam's photo of the Michipicoten, shot while riding the Aerial Lift Bridge, was featured on the front cover of the 2023 summer issue of North Star Port.

Not too shabby for less than two years of experience, and being mainly self-taught.

Bjornberg insists it’s more about having a good eye than having the fanciest tools. “I want other photographers to know that you don’t have to go out and buy the latest and greatest equipment,” he shared. “I bought two refurbished pieces of equipment. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be a good photographer.”

Favorite Spots

Bjornberg has already established several of his favorite local hotspots for taking photos. “My niche is the maritime industry and ships, and I really like the arrivals, departures, and what’s happening behind the scenes,” he said. “There are a couple of public locations throughout the harbor that have public access, but I will also cross the harbor for a shot, or take a photo from up above on the hillside.”

Regarding his outdoor images, Bjornberg prefers the Gunflint Trail for wildlife and Palisade Head and Boulder Lake for capturing the aurora borealis. Most of his favorite spots, however, are in Duluth, Superior, and Two Harbors.

Crashing waves of November 10, 2022 storm. By Adam Bjornberg. Bjornberg Photography 


Bjornberg and Fenster welcomed their first child, a daughter, Reagan, in February 2023. They also have two Golden Retrievers, Ollie and Calvin. The couple are eagerly making plans for their wedding and dream of purchasing a home of their own someday.

Bjornberg also enjoys hockey (a life-long interest), skiing, and mountain biking. Together, the couple enjoys doing beach and spring cleanups. “I will often just pick up trash by the beach and water. I try my best to make it a better place,” he noted.

Adam Bjornberg with his financé Kennedy Fenster and baby Reagan standing by his MN State Fair Award-Winning Photo.

Reflections on Duluth

Looking ahead, Bjornberg loves his job and wants to continue growing within his current company. He also wants to focus on his photography. The couple plan to make Duluth their permanent home.

Reflecting on life as a “transplant,” he said, “Duluth does an extremely good job of hosting events at any time throughout the year. There wasn’t a whole lot to do outside of the college-hosted events in Grand Forks. We enjoy Bentleyville, the ice festival in Superior, the DECC’s winter village, and of course, there are plenty of trails for hiking and biking. There is almost too much to choose from.”

To check out more of Adam Bjornberg’s photography, please visit Bjornberg Photography Smugmug Page and the Bjornberg Photography Facebook Page.


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New President of FDLTCC Hits the Ground Running

Anita Hanson – New President of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC) Is Hitting the Ground Running

Anita Hanson is the new president of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC), the nation's only tribal and community college. It is a position she is well-prepared for.

President Anita Hanson at the FDLTCC 2023 graduation. Photo submitted.

She began her career at the college in 1994 and has held many positions over the years. Hanson worked under three previous presidents, who all served as mentors to her. Subsequently, she has a good grasp on the direction she wants the college to go.

“Mostly, I want to increase our visibility,” she said. “The campus is tucked into this beautiful pine forest, so we’re a hidden gem.”

Campus and Legacy

Located in Cloquet and built in the shape of a Thunderbird, FDLTCC is the nation's only combined tribal college and state community college. “We exist because of the dreams and hard work of the Fond du Lac Band, so we want to honor that legacy,” Hanson said. “But our doors are open to all students and our students benefit so much from learning in an inclusive and diverse environment. We are a ‘union of cultures.’”

FDLTCC’s spectacular indoor/outdoor amphitheater. Photo submitted.

In addition to increasing visibility, Hanson has specific goals for her presidency. They include supporting the college’s initiatives around student success, increasing enrollment, looking into new ways to enhance its existing academic programs, and exploring opportunities for new programs.

While Hanson clearly has a handle on her new role, interestingly, she never dreamed of becoming a college president. Her leadership skills were called upon after the death of the previous President, Stephanie Hammitt, and she successfully navigated the college through a difficult time.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be in this position,” she noted. “Our faculty and staff are so dedicated to their work, and they put the needs of the students first.”

Early Life

Hanson was born in Lemoore, California, but her family returned to her parents’ hometown of Cass Lake, Minnesota, when she was in 3rd grade. There, the family resided on the Leech Lake Reservation.

Hanson has a sister and two brothers and grew up participating in many activities. She was in choir and band (she played the trumpet), ran track, and played volleyball, basketball, softball, and golf. Hanson is an enrolled member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, like her mother and maternal grandparents.

When thinking about college, Hanson knew she wanted to play college athletics. She earned a volleyball scholarship from North Dakota State University (NDSU) and graduated with a physical education and health degree.

For her first two years out of college, Hanson worked in the Indian Education Program for the Cass Lake-Bena public school system. It was this position that prompted her desire to attend graduate school.

Hanson then attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD), earning a graduate degree in educational psychology. While at UMD, she also worked as a graduate assistant and an assistant volleyball coach.


In 1994, she was hired at FDLTCC by President Lester Jack Briggs. She started as a part-time faculty counselor and eventually shifted to a full-time counselor position, which also involved working with students with disabilities.

In 2008, she was named Interim Dean of Student Services, making the transition from faculty to administration. After leaving in 2012 to work for disability services at NDSU, she returned to FDLTCC in 2016 as a faculty counselor. In 2018, she was named Dean of Student Services, and in fall 2022, she was promoted to Vice President of Student Services and Enrollment Management.

Sadly, in mid-November 2022, the College’s president, Stephanie Hammitt, passed away after a short battle with cancer. Hanson was then named acting president.

A national search was launched to find the next president. Hanson applied and was named president in June 2023.

Female faculty, staff, and administrators celebrating the 2022 Commencement at FDLTCC. Photo submitted.

President Hanson wishes to honor those who came before her in everything that she does. “We honor Presidents Hammitt, Briggs, and {Larry} Anderson every day,” she noted. “Personally, they all have had a huge impact on me and my career, and each gave me a variety of leadership opportunities. They instilled in me the importance of keeping our college’s unique mission at the forefront and to continue to promote the language, culture, and history of the Anishinaabeg. I will always remember the work all three did to prioritize our students and lift the work of our dedicated staff and exceptional faculty.”

Anita Hanson and Damien Paulson, Interim VP of Student Services and Enrollment. Photo submitted.

Recently, Hanson was invited to join the Cloquet Economic Development Partnership. She looks forward to exploring additional professional and civic engagements during her presidency.


Hanson enjoys live music, traveling, and riding her Kawasaki motorcycle in her off time. She loves spending time with her friends and family, including her 11 nieces and nephews and her new great-niece.

The last couple of years have been bittersweet for Hanson. She and her sister were fortunate to be able to care for their mother when the pandemic began. Three months ago, her beloved mother passed away after battling health issues for the past year.

Anita Hansen and her precious Nahla. Photo submitted.

Hanson has lived in Duluth for over 20 years and feels that many things make the Twin Ports and our surrounding communities a great place to attend college and/or create a permanent home.

“There is so much to be found in Duluth and the region,” she noted. “Our amazing college is in the middle of a pine forest and is just 20 minutes away from Duluth. I love that our students have convenient access to the Lake, music, hiking trails, cultural activities, and fine foods of the Twin Ports.  I encourage everyone to realize what we have in our region. We live in a beautiful part of the country.”


For young people hoping to find a meaningful profession that they love, Hanson generously offered some helpful advice. “I would say choose a career path that motivates and excites them,” she said.

“If young people are not sure what profession to go into, they could consider taking a course or courses at a two-year college like FDLTCC to get a feel for what college is like and/or explore various disciplines to see what they enjoy.”

She continued, “Use your high school guidance counselors, teachers, or principals for career advice and support. Complete interest inventories. You can take time to understand what your likes and dislikes are before choosing to enter a post-secondary institution.”

“Take advantage of any opportunity you are given to job shadow or visit with professionals in academia or other careers,” she added.  “These are great ways to understand the specific certifications required for a chosen career.”

“Finally, work hard and be a kind and respectful person to everyone in your path. You never know where your education can take you.”


Serving as a college president is a deeply meaningful endeavor for Hanson. “One of the most rewarding things about my job is seeing students achieve goals they’ve set for themselves,” she shared.

“I just love participating in the college’s commencement each year and watching the pride in the faces of our graduates.”

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Since 1888, Pickwick Serves Duluth Fine Food & Drink


Pickwick Restaurant & Pub - Serving Fine Food and Drink to Duluth since 1888

Pickwick History

Pickwick Restaurant & Pub has a rich history in Duluth. According to Pickwick's website, it opened in 1888 as the Old Saloon within Fitger's Brewery Company and has operated at its current location at 508 East Superior Street since 1914. According to an article in Perfect Duluth Day 1918, Joseph S. Wisocki bought the business for $200, which he borrowed. It remained in the Wisocki family for generations until it was sold to Tim and Amy Wright in 2010, adding that the Pickwick is Duluth’s oldest and longest-operating restaurant.

According to Duluth Historian Tony Dierckins of Zenith City Online:

The Brewery saloon didn't become known as the Pickwick until 1919 or soon thereafter. That year Fitger's first produced a non-alcoholic drink called "Pickwick." It was served at Wisocki's Brewery Saloon and was said to be a "great mixer," perfect for those sneaking in their own hooch during Prohibition. People started saying they were going "to get a Pickwick." Soon they were saying, "I am going to the Pickwick." By 1920, Wisocki had changed the name and likely purchased (rather than continue leasing) the building at that time.

For 109 years, Pickwick has served fine food and beverages in this location at 508 E Superior St in Duluth.


If I had to concisely describe the vibe at the ‘Wick, I might use the phrase “old money.”

The place is adorned with stained glass, dark, ornate woodwork, and swanky vintage chandeliers. It simply looks and feels … well, rich.

There is a pub area and also a more formal dining room, which offers gorgeous views of Lake Superior. A lit candle on each table provided a lovely ambiance.

Our fellow patrons (at 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday) were incredibly diverse. Some were in business suits, likely unwinding with an after-work cocktail and maybe an appetizer.

Some appeared to be tourists, decked out in tank tops and t-shirts. All ages were present, including babies, toddlers, teens, adults and seniors.


Pickwick's well-presented Atlantic Salmon.

I ordered the Fresh Atlantic Salmon. From the menu:

Fresh salmon char-grilled to temp, and finished with a lemon dill compound butter.

Our server, Zoe, told me that the salmon is “sushi grade,” so I had my choice on how it was prepared. With a little guidance, I opted for medium-well.

The salmon had a deliciously crisp, salty crust with visible char marks on the surface. A generous dollop of lemon dill butter was slowly melting across the top of the fish, giving it an extra-rich mouthfeel. The dish was served with a large lemon wedge.

Pickwick entrees are served with a garden salad or patrons can substitute a Caesar salad or soup. Entrees also include a veggie of the day, plus a choice of Gouda mashed potatoes, Minnesota wild rice, baked potato, fries, or onion rings.

Fresh greens salad with house Italian dressing.

I opted for the standard garden salad with homemade Italian dressing and the Minnesota wild rice, and swapped out the veg of the day (squash and zucchini) for sautéed asparagus.

The garden salad was large, fresh, and colorful, featuring sprouts, cukes, shredded carrots, red onion, and homemade croutons, all served on a bed of fresh greens. The house-made Italian dressing was creamy and zesty.

Entrees also come with a small loaf of bread. Upon inquiry, I learned it is a Ciabatta sourced from Duluth-favorite Johnson’s Bakery. The bread was warm, chewy, flaky, and served with whipped butter.

Ciabatta Bread is sourced from Duluth's Johnson Bakery.

The asparagus was crisp and slightly chewy, and deliciously well-seasoned. And the wild rice (a Minnesota delicacy!) contained onions, carrots, and celery. It was both salty and savory, leading me to believe it was slow-cooked in a rich broth.

I paired my fish with a glass of the Freakshow Cabernet out of Lodi, California. Zoe recommended it and it is described on the menu as  “dense, full-bodied, supple and silky.” The rich wine was the perfect accompaniment to the salty, fatty fish.

Freakshow Cabernet, Lodi California.

My husband and photographer Mike chose the Napoleon Bacon Burger. From the menu:

“We hand-form these special patties from a mix of beef and freshly ground Applewood smoked bacon, blended together with Wisconsin cheddar and fried onions.”

Pickwick's Napoleon Bacon Burger.

The burger was thick and salty, and the bacon gave it a smoky flavor. The onions were fried to a delicious, caramelized finish. The tomato and lettuce were crisp and fresh. The burger was served on a shiny bun, also sourced from Johnson’s Bakery.

Pickwick sandwiches come with chips or fries. Or, you can substitute onion rings, a house salad, Caesar salad, or parmesan broiled tomatoes. Mike chose the fries.

The steak-style fries were crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. The meal was served with a crunchy dill pickle spear.

Mike paired his burger with a Castle Danger Raspberry Honey Wheat, a fruited ale from Two Harbors-based Castle Danger Brewery. This beer has a beautiful, slightly pink color and a crisp, floral aroma with hints of rich berry. A smooth, light wheat body and a dry finish balance it out nicely.

Castle Danger Raspberry Honey Wheat beer.

While Mike dutifully cleaned his plate, my salmon fillet was huge, providing plenty of leftovers (along with a few bites of asparagus and wild rice) for lunch the next day.


Our server, Zoe, was very pleasant and patient with my many questions. She circled back to our table several times to check on us while providing plenty of privacy to enjoy a quiet meal. (We wanted to snap a photo of Zoe for the story, but she politely declined).

She was also very knowledgeable about food and beverage pairings and helped us each select a suitable beverage to complement our meal. The Pickwick’s hostesses were also very pleasant and accommodating.


While at first glance, the Pickwick may seem a little bougie, it has a variety of items – ranging from appetizers, soups, and sandwiches to fish and steak – to suit every price point and palate.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our meal, and the service was excellent. The vibe was elegant yet comfortable and relaxed, a great option for a casual meal or a special occasion.

We would highly recommend The Pickwick, and can’t wait to return. I’m already dreaming about my next order; it will most certainly include a side of their famous onion rings.

For more information and menu, visit pickwickduluth.com.


Andrea Busche is a Duluth and regional freelance writer credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications. Her food column, Local Pairings, was featured in Duluth.com magazine and later published in the Duluth News Tribune from 2016-2018.


This review is the first of what we hope to be many reviews of places to Eat & Drink Duluth. Destination Duluth and Pickwick welcome comments about your Pickwick experiences and suggestions for future reviews.

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