Fire leaves a big hole in Dorset

Compa?eros Mexican Restaurant and its sister, the Dorset House, burned early Thursday morning. Both are considered total losses. There's no confirmed cause of the fire, and somehow that doesn't really matter. The flaming blaze ended an amazing ch...

Compañeros Mexican Restaurant and its sister, the Dorset House, burned early Thursday morning.

Both are considered total losses. There’s no confirmed cause of the fire, and somehow that doesn’t really matter. The flaming blaze ended an amazing chapter in the storied history of tourism and hospitality in the land of lakes.

Compañeros opened 29 years ago. The Dorset House was acquired a few years later and leaves its own mark, but make no mistake, Compañeros was the star of the show.

During those 29 years, the town grew, developed and prospered; the core of this phenomena was the popular Mexican restaurant.

Dorset became a “must do” event and destination for thousands of tourists and a regular dining option for many local residents.


Dorset became a part of local color and culture. Four restaurants eventually made the sleepy little country town a bustling wide spot in the road. Other business followed, the Heartland Trail became a biker’s favorite. The stars were well aligned.

Memories were made in Dorset. Memories were made at Compañeros. Who will forget the dozens of people lining that boardwalk waiting for a table most summer evenings?

The Taste of Dorset draws thousands, and makes the road impassable for a few short hours every August. State and national media pay attention to Dorset, as one can attest once again this week.

You paid to vote, and you read a clever, funky and farcical newspaper, the Dorset Bugle. You elected a three year old mayor, who became famous in his own right.

Dorset became imbedded in local culture and lore. It was and is, as unique and memorable for visitors as center street parking on Main Street in Park Rapids, is unusual.

You just simply can’t replace or replicate Compañeros, with a 100-year-old core and add-ons galore, nor the Dorset House, with towering ceilings, vintage tiles, and long ago charm.

Gone are the old Mexican blankets that cleverly separated diners. Gone will be the crowded little booths that always were a bit too small. We’ll miss those perky red dresses and the waitresses that wore them.

We sat on a bench, or stood in a line, waiting for someone to call out, it’s dinner time.


Most always was Laura, finding us a seat, and Rick, behind the bar, fixing a treat.

About parking, we didn’t stress out a lot, ‘stead searched through the town ‘till we found the right spot.

The food, the best anywhere, most people would say. Ditto for the margaritas, the likes of which are not duplicated today.

It was by cash or by check and we grumbled a bit, no credit cards, you got used to it.

Compadres was taken, they had to change the name; no matter, each night the tourists still came.

Ice cream with grandpa and kids, when the weather was hot? The Dorset House was our favorite spot.

Dorset will rebound; tourists will still gather there, and yes, the sidewalks will mostly roll up in October each year.

There are two restaurants that remain, plus other businesses will go on. People will still ride the trail and hopefully, the Compañeros and the Dorset House will be rebuilt. The town will go on, it has new history to write.


In very short time Compañeros earned the right to be called an icon. That in itself is remarkable.

Sadly, today, the donkey with the broken ear and that silly hat is gone.

(This editorial was written by Dennis Winskowski, publisher of Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the Park Rapids Enterprise.)

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