Entrepreneurs Emily and Jay Broman – Owners of the last Bridgeman’s Restaurant and the Duluth Junk Hunt
When it comes to the stereotype of “Minnesota Nice,” entrepreneurs Jay and Emily Broman certainly fit the bill. Together, they own the world’s last Bridgeman’s Restaurant – right here in Duluth - and are also the founders and organizers of the Duluth Junk Hunt.
This humble, hard-working couple has worked hard to build their Duluth businesses into what they are today: thriving operations that locals and tourists alike enjoy visiting, again and again.
Bridgeman’s Ice Cream is a well-known and loved brand. The many Bridgeman's restaurants in days gone by are fondly remembered. But what many people don’t know is that it all started here in Duluth.
Back in 1883, Duluthian Henry Bridgeman founded a dairy business, where he delivered milk to local residents. He began by peddling fresh milk from home to home, using a goat cart. Bridgeman-Russell was founded in 1888, and incorporated in 1903 by Henry Bridgeman and Newell Francis Russell. Through hard work, persistence, quality products, and a little luck, their business grew into the largest dairy concern in the Midwest.
In 1936, his sons, Chester and Roy, expanded the brand to include ice cream and opened the original Bridgeman’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Duluth. The brothers ultimately opened six Bridgeman Ice Cream Shoppes within eighteen months. Bridgeman’s restaurants later followed.
Over the next decades, many Bridgeman’s ice cream shoppes and restaurants opened across the United States. The restaurant franchise flourished in the 1970s and 1980s before being bought out in the early 1990s, then incurring a slow and steady decline.
Last Bridgeman's Restaurant Standing
During high school, Jay Broman worked as a busboy for Bridgeman’s Restaurant, and truly enjoyed his time there. A number of years later, when he found out the owners of Bridgeman’s Restaurant by the mall were interested in selling, he jumped at the chance and bought the business in 2002.
Today, the Duluth location – at 2202 Mountain Shadow Drive - is the only Bridgeman’s Restaurant left. “There used to be a lot of different Bridgeman’s all over the place, but we are the only restaurant left,” Emily noted.
“Bridgeman’s Corporation is still located in Minneapolis, but is focused (only) on ice cream,” she added. “And Bridgeman’s still makes its ice cream in Wisconsin. However, we are independently owned. We buy our ice cream from them, but we do our own menu, restaurant design, etc."
The Bromans work hard to keep their “modern-style diner” exciting for customers. The menu – which the Bromans have created themselves - offers everything from mouth-watering burgers and salads to sundaes, shakes, “mega malts,” a Friday night fish fry, hearty breakfasts, and more.
“Our customers appreciate our from-scratch meals,” Emily said. “Our burgers are fresh, never frozen, and our in-house baker creates delicious pies, cinnamon rolls, and soups – all from scratch.” Bridgeman’s also has a catering arm, and the restaurant caters for weddings, business events, and more.
Emily attributes being the “last restaurant standing” to a few potential factors. “Hopefully, it’s due to good leadership,” she said. “But our menu is also really great. Our big, made-from-scratch breakfasts are served all day.
“And, our staff is incredible. The #1 compliment we receive is how great our employees are. A few have been there for 20+ years, and we have very low turnover.” Bridgeman’s currently has over 100 employees, many of whom are students.
Recently, the Bromans also added a food truck to their portfolio. “This year was our second summer with it, and it keeps us very busy,” Emily noted. “We mostly visit businesses – by invitation – and serve their staff. We aren’t doing any festivals or anything at this point.”
The menu options are endless for Bridgeman’s expanded venues. “We like how we can go outside the box with the food truck and catering business,” she noted. “We can serve burgers and sandwiches, or items like Indian curries and Pad Thai – we can literally do anything. We have really talented chefs.”
The Bromans are also currently refurbishing a vintage Airstream trailer. They plan to somehow utilize it for Bridgeman’s operations in the future.
The Duluth Junk Hunt
Another of the Bromans’ initiatives is the Duluth Junk Hunt. The event, which started in 2012, is held the first weekend of May and November at the DECC.
Here, 140+ unique booths are set up, and vendors sell antique, vintage, and repurposed items. This includes furniture, home décor, gardening pieces, and more. In addition to the Bromans and a few family members, many Bridgeman’s employees also work at this event.
When it comes to the vendors, most are local, but many also travel to attend. “Our vendors are mostly from Minnesota, but also from the surrounding states. We can have roughly 140 booths, and there’s always a waiting list,” Emily shared.
The Junk Hunt has been a perfect addition to Duluth’s shopping/antiquing scene. “We started the Junk Hunt here because there isn’t anything like it in Duluth,” Emily said. “We thought Duluthians would really love it.”
And love it, they do; the Duluth Junk Hunt typically sees about 5,000 shoppers per event.
Emily acknowledged that the restaurant industry is a busy, but rewarding one. “We’re both pretty involved, and very hands-on with the restaurant,” she noted. “Our work is very tiring, but we do love it.” When they have days off, the Bromans love to visit the North Shore or go for a walk in the woods on one of Duluth's many beautiful trails.
For the Bromans, Duluth is home. They never even considered relocating anywhere else. “We both love Duluth, and it’s never been a question as to whether we’d move,” Emily said.
“It’s so beautiful here. We drive by the lake and are constantly in awe that we live here. Duluth has everything you need. It’s quiet, and really the perfect size.”
For more info about Duluth Bridgeman’s Restaurant and catering business, including the menu, please visit duluthbridgemans.com. For information about the Duluth Junk Hunt, please visit duluthjunkhunt.com. Both businesses can also be found on Facebook.