Success isn’t built by one thing, as we know. Arguably, one of the most important factors to a business finding success is feeling. Now, let me explain—a salesperson is going to make a client feel confident about their purchase; in the same way, a realtor will build good energy in a home they’re showing; in the same way, a restaurant will establish an atmosphere to welcome their patrons and make them want to return. There are one, or really three, establishments that can claim that last success, have you heard of Marge?
In 2011, Dan Hurder found himself new in the regional restaurant business, but not necessarily new to the trade. He went to college for hotel and restaurant management, always aiming for the hospitality industry, but didn’t necessarily consider himself a “restaurant guy.” After purchasing a restaurant in Ottertail, MN (The Otter), Dan would find that his future business endeavors might in fact define him as the restaurant guy.
Dan Hurder is the owner of a few places you may have heard of, including a local restaurant, The Boiler Room; a bar, Marge’s Bar; and a new breakfast and lunch diner, Marge’s Diner—all of which are extremely popular within their respective crowds, and, all of which, differ from each other in aesthetic.
Taking a step inside any one of these establishments will send at least four of the five of your senses into awe. From lighting to flooring to decor to ceiling height, not even considering the type of food or drink served, each space gives way to its own, unique energy. You may be wondering how spaces like these can be so successfully different yet designed by the same—so were we. So we asked.
“Everyone has been to a restaurant where the energy sucks. It sucks! Neither the customers nor the staff are having a good time. Whether energy is created through music, decor, or staff engagement, it is so important to the dining experience. We know eating out is expensive. We know it has gotten more expensive really quickly. We know you can probably make the same thing at home for cheaper. We hope you can connect the dots between the prices on a menu and the overall experience you are having, not just the food on the plate.”– Dan Hurder – Owner of Boiler Room, Marge’s Bar, & Marge’s Diner
The Boiler Room
“The space that we opened The Boiler Room in pretty much dictated the direction we decided to go. We were in the old boiler room of the building, the name worked, and the industrial/steampunk design elements easily integrated into what already existed in the space,” Dan explained. “We worked with Theisen Design Studio out of New York Mills, MN, and she really helped pull everything together to complete the half-baked vision that we had.”
Dan gives full credit to the designer he worked with in regard to how the Boiler Room atmosphere came together.
“We knew what we wanted in a restaurant, but had no idea how to get there on our own. She really helped us pull together the concept and the decor to make it all make sense,” he said.
Upon walking in from a lower-level entry off Roberts Alley, you’re greeted with low lights, bronze and silver tones, and wood accents.
Looking up, you’ll see gears of all shapes and sizes, fitting together and decorating the ceiling above you. While your own gears are turning to figure out why you’re following old pipes along the brick walls, you’ll be led to a table sat right underneath the star of the show—an old boiler door.
The Boiler Room, as Dan said, is quite literally an old boiler room.
Venturing down a winding hallway in the same basement, you’ll see a door with glowing colorful lights shining through as if to say, “Come inside!”
“Marge’s Bar is in the space that used to be Stumbeano’s Coffee, and I had always thought it would be a really cool place for a speakeasy-type establishment. When they vacated their lease, we knew we wanted to do something with it,” Dan said. “The idea behind Marge’s Bar is the product of several cocktails with some really great friends. The original intent was to turn it into a ‘waiting area’ for The Boiler Room where you could grab a drink while you waited for a table. Eventually, it became a homage to tacky Midwest decor, and we decided it needed its own name. It sort of took on a life of its own from there.”
A common recommendation from almost any local, Marge’s Bar is the not-so-secret, secret nighttime hotspot in downtown Fargo.
Complete with low ceilings, a piano in the corner about half the size of the bar rail, a variety of vintage-esque games at the few tables, a perfectly sunken-in red couch, and nearly no inch of empty wall space—save the brick wall sporting a bright neon sign reading “Marge’s.”
A large part of what makes Marge’s Bar, Marge’s Bar is the kitschy midwestern-like decor scattered around the small space. A collection of vintage spoons in a display case, a light-up yard display of Santa Clause, a wall next to the bar covered in notes about friends, memories, love, celebration, or even just a doodle.
The final piece to the puzzle in understanding the ambiance in Marge’s Bar is the lighting. Strung above you are a variety of colorful Christmas lights. The bar rail has a few hanging lamps above and a bit more light in the bar area, but the main source of light comes from the warm mini bulbs hanging overhead.
Marge’s, in the most comforting way, is reminiscent of going into your Midwestern grandmother’s storage closet and hunting for an old scrapbook for the family to mull over.
And as if Fargo couldn’t lean more into that, its counterpart is just a few doors above.
“Marge’s Diner is in a space that had been many things before. We purchased Monte’s Downtown from the original owners back in 2012 and had tried a few variations of restaurant concepts over the years. We knew the location was right, we just hadn’t landed on a concept that worked just yet. We basically said, ‘Hey, this ‘Marge’ thing seems to be working. What if we did a Marge’s restaurant concept?’ We also knew that we didn’t want to compete in the dinner daypart as there are just so many other options.” Dan said. “We took labor challenges, food cost challenges, and the space we had to work with and basically landed on Marge’s Diner.”
As for Marge’s Bar and Marge’s Diner, Dan says that he does take some credit, but says he also credits all the people who were part of the brainstorming process through their fruition. The next step was to decorate.
“Once we knew what we were looking for on Facebook marketplace, it became apparent there was no shortage of old, tacky s&#! that we could use to bring the concepts to life,” Dan said.
If Marge’s Bar is the Midwest’s collection from the storage closet, Marge’s Diner is the Midwest’s kitchen. You’re greeted with a 70s color palette ranging from earthy tones to vibrant hues in the seating to the walls. The waiting area at the front is complimented with a vintage-looking orange and brown wallpaper, the ledge behind the booths down the restaurant is lined with figurine sets of salt and pepper shakers, one wall is decorated with an array of porcelain plates, and another with hanging embroidery.
Behind the bar sits sets of retro plating and cups and other random nicknacks, ranging from semi-translucent green, purple, and blue plating, to sets of BlueCorning casserole dishes, to pairs of cute table weights.
Just as in the bar, the diner is capped with string lights hanging above, creating, again, a warm environment that evokes a feeling of nostalgia and welcomeness.
To create not only these spaces that look a certain way but make their occupants feel a certain way, there must be a level of understanding.
“Personally, atmosphere is something I take notice of when I go to a restaurant,” Dan said. “The food can be the best food in the world, but if you are sitting in a stark, white room, it just isn’t quite the same. Our style of food is competing in a similar arena to so many other restaurants in the area, so we knew early on we wanted atmosphere to be an important part of our entire experience. As Marge’s Bar and Marge’s Diner came to be, we decided to make how the space looked and felt an even bigger piece of the experience to help differentiate them.”
There are truly some things you have to just go experience, and these three spots won’t disappoint.