Portland Transplant Emilee Wood Loves The Funkiness of Duluth


Emilee Wood, the New GM at Corktown Deli & Brews Loves the “Funkiness” of Duluth

Although she’s only been in the Northland for 3 ½ years, Portland, Oregon native Emilee Wood has already made herself right at home.

Duluth has played matchmaker in many areas of Wood’s life. It’s where she met and married her husband, Tyler; adopted a puppy, Enzo; and landed herself a great job - as the General Manager of Corktown Deli & Brews.

She now considers herself a permanent transplant. But it hasn’t come without a few minor, weather-related hiccups.

“When I first moved here, I was using pickling salt on my stairs. I didn’t know otherwise,” she mentioned with a chuckle.

“And, when I got my first job in Duluth as the delivery manager at Pizza Luce, I had to laugh. Snow – and shoveling – are new to me. It never drops below 35 in Portland. The cold is completely different here. But the summers make it all worth it.”

Emily marvels at the magical Bentleyville during her first Christmas season in Duluth. Photo submitted.

Tough Cookie

Although she is only 27, Wood is mature beyond her years. Her mother died when Wood was still a child. Wood and her brother, John Kinnett, who have different fathers, were separated, and Wood was brought up in the foster care system.

While she undoubtedly experienced some challenges, her less-than-idyllic childhood helped mold her into the strong, independent woman she is today. Another blessing is that her foster family was in the restaurant business.

Wood was bitten by the restaurant bug very early in life and has never looked back.

Restaurant Biz

Wood’s foster family owned Apizza Scholls, an iconic Portland pizzeria. Wood began working there as a teenager and was instantly hooked. “I learned that I loved to make pizza, and I always wanted to be in the kitchen,” she said. “When I was 17, I met some amazing chefs and got some big stars in my eyes. I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life.’”

When she was 18, she worked as the restaurant’s pantry chef, considering her next move. “My foster uncle, Brian, said, ‘You can either go to culinary school or watch some chefs and get hands-on training.’ I opted to do things hands-on.”

After leaving the family business, she was hired at a family-focused restaurant called The Cruise Inn. “I worked as a server and then a server lead. That job gave me lots of front-of-house knowledge and experience,” she noted.

She then worked at Pizzacato for a year, ultimately resigning as their assistant manager. Later, she worked at Killer Burger, where she held many roles, including training coordinator and shift lead. She also helped run their two restaurants within the Moda Center.

This rich restaurant experience left her well-prepared for a move to Duluth.


Wood’s move to Duluth was all a bit of a fluke. She and her brother, John, had reconnected online, and she longed to reestablish their relationship. John had recently moved to Eveleth after meeting his future wife, Ashley, who is from the Iron Range.

Wood moved to Eveleth in 2020. While she was grateful for her brother and sister-in-law’s hospitality, Wood wanted to explore her options and perhaps work in a larger market, while remaining somewhat close by.

“John and I would drive to Duluth often,” she explained. “We loved visiting Duluth restaurants, including Corktown, OMC, and the {now-closed} Tacos, Tacos, Tacos. When I decided to move here, I applied at Pizza Luce, and the manager, Paige Doty, noticed my Killer Burger sweatshirt and it started a great conversation. I think it was meant to be.”

Fate was definitely at play behind the scenes at Pizza Luce. In addition to being her first Duluth employer, it is also where Wood met her future husband, Tyler.

Emilee and Tyler have both made careers in the restaurant industry. Tyler now works as a line cook at the Pickwick.

Emilee relaxes with her husband, Tyler, at his family’s cabin in Wisconsin. Photo submitted.

Duluth Grill Family

A while back, Wood was ready for a career change. She initially applied at another “Duluth Grill family” restaurant – the soon-to-be-opened Burger Paradox. But fate intervened on her behalf once again.

“The owner of Burger Paradox, Dan LeFebvre, Tom Hanson’s partner, pulled my application and saw my restaurant experience,” she said. “He knew they would soon be looking for a General Manager at Corktown.”

Ultimately, everything fell into place. Wood was hired as Corktown’s GM in June 2023; this all happened shortly after Corktown moved to its new location at 102 S 27th Ave W on May 21st, 2023.

Rather than being intimidated, the chaos of the move appealed to her. “I love the hectic nature of opening a new restaurant,” she explained.

At Corktown, she handles a bit of everything, including overseeing the restaurant’s 35-employee team. “I do the financials, admin work, handle the staffing needs (including hiring/firing), work on menu development and recipes, and I help motivate the team,” she explained.

Emily makes recommendations from Corktown's menu to a guest. Photo submitted.

And throughout the transition to their new space, a few changes were in order. This includes new hours and an expanded dinner menu.

“Corktown’s owner, Jeff Petcoff, and I worked together. We had to define, ‘What is Corktown, and what are we doing?’ We came to the conclusion that we want to be the neighborhood spot. No matter who you are - you, your grandma, and people who are vegans - can all come here and find something to enjoy.”

Speaking of enjoyment, Wood’s favorite menu item is Corktown’s Thai Grain Bowl, a hearty dish full of kale, quinoa, wild rice, avocado, pickled jalapenos, cucumbers, carrots, cilantro, scallions, and lime, and topped with spicy cashew sauce. She gets hers prepared with fried tofu.

Her favorite Corktown cocktail is Duluth’s Last Word, a delicious concoction made with local Vikre herbal liqueur, Tanqueray, apricot liqueur, and lime juice.

Wood has undoubtedly learned from the best. “I have a lot of respect for Tom (Hanson), Louie (Hanson), Dan (LeFebvre), and Jeff (Petcoff),” she noted. “They have a lot of great knowledge to share.

“One thing I really respect about this company – including Tom – is that I can call any of them anytime, and they’d happily come and wash dishes if we needed them to. They have true dedication to their employees and the businesses.

“I want to continue growing in the Duluth Grill family,” she added. “I can see myself staying for the long run.”


Emilee and her husband, Tyler Wood – who is originally from Appleton, WI - were married a year ago at Sir Ben’s restaurant. The ceremony took place inside, at a regular table. The only people who knew a wedding was underway were the couple, their officiant, and a few witnesses.

The Woods live in the Central Hillside neighborhood with their puppy Enzo (so named for Enzo Ferrari), a Catahoula Leopard Dog they adopted from PJ’s Rescue. Together, the family enjoys many things about Duluth.

Enzo is deep in puppy dreams after a long walk on the lake walk. Photo submitted.

“We love walking Enzo on the Lakewalk. We like canoeing, and it’s on my bucket list to visit the BWCA in 2024,” Emilee said.

“We also like camping and hiking, and playing tabletop games like Magic: The Gathering. I also like hiking at Chester Creek and on the Superior Hiking Trail. And I love enjoying a Margarita and hanging out with Enzo on the patio at Burrito Union.”

Portland v. Duluth

Wood has noticed a few similarities between Portland and Duluth. “Both are port towns,” she noted. “Some people say that Duluth is a ‘little Portland.’

“And Portland’s official mantra is ‘Keep Portland Weird.’ Rather than being weird, I would say that Duluth is funky. There are quite a few fun, small businesses here. Duluth is like a small town that wants to be big.”

Rewarding Work

For Wood, her work in the restaurant business is deeply meaningful. “At Corktown, we are serving meals that I’d feel 100% confident serving to my family,” she said.

“Food is the universal language,” she added. “Seeing people happy, gathered together, and enjoying good food makes me feel so fulfilled.”

To learn more about Corktown Deli & Brews, please visit Corktown Deli & Brews - Corktown Deli.

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