The Applebee's trail: Fargo group's road trip hits all 11 restaurants in North Dakota

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FARGO — Jasmyne Cardinal had the oil changed on her vehicle just before a long road trip with four friends and already has another one booked soon, for good reason.

The group left Fargo early Thursday, July 26, on an epic excursion — hitting every Applebee's restaurant in North Dakota in a single day.

"I'm a little nervous. I really hope she's going to make the trip," Cardinal said of her 2007 minivan.

She, along with Kylee Fernholz, Justine Stensby, Caitlin Fisher and trip organizer Dylan Austin, planned to put more than 840 miles and 13 straight hours of driving on that minivan that would bring them to all 11 North Dakota Applebee's in eight cities.

They were greeted by restaurant staff, served complimentary meals and appetizers, sometimes on the go, and received souvenirs along the way.

"Everyone has been amazing and we're having a blast!" Austin said in an email, just after the crew left Williston on Thursday afternoon.

The trip began with stops at the northside and 45th Street South restaurants in Fargo, continuing to Jamestown, Bismarck, Dickinson, Williston, Minot, Devils Lake and Grand Forks before it would wrap up back in Fargo at an Applebee's on 13th Avenue South. The group hoped to arrive there before midnight.

That final stop is where they've gathered every Thursday night for about the last year, after finishing their server shifts at the Olive Garden restaurant a few miles down the road.

That might seem to be a conflict, but not so, according to Bret Yaeger, area director for Apple Core Enterprises, a franchisee of Applebee's International that owns and operates the restaurants in North Dakota, Minnesota and parts of Arizona and California.

"It's a competitive business, but it's like a brother and sisterhood. Everybody in the service industry, regardless of where you work, it is kind of like a family," Yaeger said.

The trip has been a month or so in the making, serving as a send-off for Stensby, who's moving to Duluth, Minn., soon for school.

It came about after Austin saw an online post from a now-suspended Twitter account claiming to be associated with North Dakota tourism.

"It's like the world's most depressing 'connect the dots' game," the post read, referring to the feat of visiting all the state's Applebee's restaurants.

The group got to talking and decided it would be fun — and funny — to make the trip themselves. Austin contacted the people at Apple Core Enterprises, who were on board right away.

Dusty Jensen, chief operating officer for ACE, was impressed by the group's enthusiasm and the bond they seem to have with one another.

"It's pretty cool. It's a special thing for them," said Jensen, who met the group at their first stop.

Sara Otte Coleman, Tourism Division director at the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said the road trip is an indication of how people like to travel now.

They enjoy following trails, whether it's the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Maah Daah Hey Trail or the Applebee's trail, in this case.

"It's a fun way to get people on board, a great way to get them around the state," Otte Coleman said.

As for the Applebee's tour, the group planned to switch drivers often and pass the time on the road by watching movies, listening to music and, of course, eating.

They don't care if others poke fun at their endeavor. In fact, that's partly the point.

"Just to say that we did it, that's all I care about," Austin said with a laugh.