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Creating memories: HoDo celebrates 15th anniversary with food, art, music

Owner Karen Stoker is excited to celebrate the HoDo’s 15th anniversary in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum1 / 5
Tony Nasello and Karen Stoker are gearing up to celebrate the HoDo’s 15th anniversary later this week. David Samson / The Forum2 / 5
The bison burger is a favorite at the HoDo in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum3 / 5
The Sky Prairie on the rooftop of the Hotel Donaldson in downtown Fargo. Special to The Forum4 / 5
Stoker's in the Basement, located in the HoDo building in downtown Fargo, is available to rent for events such as groom's dinners, baby showers, retirement celebrations or business meetings. Special to The Forum5 / 5

FARGO — As she looked out the window of the Hotel Donaldson lounge on opening weekend 15 years ago, owner Karen Stoker recalls watching a tumbleweed roll down Broadway.

"No joke," Stoker said. "I thought, 'Oh goodness. It's too late now. I'm all in.'"

In 2003, downtown was a far cry from the bustling city center it is today. Only a handful of businesses were operating in the neighborhood at the time. Stoker knew she was taking a risk purchasing the Hotel Donaldson, 101 Broadway N., but she said, "Downtown called to me and so did this building."

Stoker explained she was going through what she calls her "midlife awakening" at the time. She had just wrapped up a successful career with Great Plains Software and was contemplating the next chapter of her life.

One recurring idea was to find a way to "create memorable experiences." She said she'd spent years working hard to do that for her children, and she wanted to do the same for her community.

She set out to create these experiences through local music, food and art.

"One of the reasons that really motivated me to do this kind of business versus another is that wherever you go, food, music and art bring people closer together," Stoker said. "You don't need to share a language. You don't need to share geography."

In keeping with that mission, the Hotel Donaldson will host several food, music and art events Thursday, Aug. 16, through Saturday, Aug. 18, to celebrate its 15th anniversary.

Dale Days

The Hotel Donaldson has hosted Dale Days for several years to celebrate its anniversary and its former general manager, Dale Powers, who passed away in 2015.

This year, each day will feature "throwback specials" in the bar and restaurant. General Manager Tony Nasello explained these are favorite dishes that have come and gone from the menu over the years, such as their bison meatballs and the hummus plate. Standards such as the popular bison burger and wild rice burger will be available as well.

Hotel staff will also be leading "top-to-bottom" tours of the Hotel Donaldson at 3 and 4 p.m. each day. Kelly Foss, the HoDo's sales and marketing manager, explained that they're offering tours because many people have frequented the bar and restaurant over the years, but have never seen one of the guestrooms or the rest of the hotel.

Live music is also planned at 8 p.m. each night. The Dead Horses will perform Thursday, Heavy is the Head on Friday, Aug. 17, and the Jessica Venes and Conor Lee Duo and friends will perform Saturday.

Saturday is also being billed as "HoDo Kid Day" and will feature sidewalk chalk art, T-shirt making, airbrush tattoos and a collaborative canvas art project. Kids can also eat free Saturday with the purchase of an adult meal.

Also new this year is the "HoDo Diorama-Rama" event Saturday. Community members are encouraged to create and bring a diorama depicting memories or feelings about downtown or Fargo in general. Gift cards and T-shirts will be awarded for Best Downtown Spirit, Most HoDo and Made Me Smile categories. The grand prize winner will be awarded a free night's stay or a free Stoker's meeting room rental.

Reflecting on 15 years

The HoDo has garnered a lot of attention over the years. Its restaurant was awarded a Four Diamond rating by the AAA, a designation awarded to fewer than 3 percent of AAA-recognized restaurants. The hotel has also been written about by travel writers from numerous national publications, including the Washington Post and the National Geographic Traveler.

"The one that really does stand out to me the most is when we were honored by National Geographic Traveler. It's the world's most widely read travel magazine," Stoker said.

She explained it meant so much because the hotel was recognized for having a "strong sense of place," something Stoker said they strive for every day.

She said the HoDo would not work anywhere else but Fargo because it's tailored to celebrate this community through its farm-to-table restaurant and relationships with local artists and musicians.

Stoker said the HoDo's goal has always been to stay relevant to the people of Fargo-Moorhead.

"Unless we matter to the people who we share our community with, it doesn't really matter," Stoker said.

Even after 15 years, she said there is one common misconception about the business.

"I want people to know we wear jeans here," she said.

People also don't need to know anything about food, wine or art to enjoy the HoDo experience, she said.

"So, come in your jeans. Have a beer and a burger or come dressed up and have the dinner special. It doesn't matter," she said.