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The return of Dinkytown McDonald’s

After a three-year closure, McDonald’s is coming back to Dinkytown.
Image by BKV Group
A proposed rendering of the Dinkytown McDonald’s redevelopment.

Nearly three years after the iconic golden arches left the neighborhood, McDonald’s is preparing to make its return to Dinkytown.

The popular fast-food chain was a staple for students along Fourth Street Southeast and 15th Avenue Southeast for 57 years before its closure in Dec. 2020. Now, a new McDonald’s is tentatively scheduled to open next week in the same place as its predecessor under the newly constructed Identity apartment building. 

The restaurant will be updated to be fully digital with kiosks where people can order and will have no drive-thru, unlike the previous location, according to Melissa Smith-Kennedy, owner of the new McDonald’s. Smith-Kennedy said she is excited to open in Dinkytown because of students and the decades-long legacy the previous McDonald’s built in the neighborhood. 

“You never really need to go backwards in time,” Smith-Kennedy said. “All you can do is take what you have in front of you and you go forward.” 

Smith-Kennedy added she is looking forward to working in a student-based environment because of the long history McDonald’s has with Dinkytown and its residents and the unique sense of community students bring. Although she appreciates the legacy of the previous building, Smith-Kennedy said the new restaurant will change to better serve students. 

“For us to treat it as anything different from that would be not fair to the University or that area,” Smith-Kennedy said. “You have to go into it with an open mind and be open to learning, being open to listening, and we’ll adjust accordingly.”

Susan LoRusso graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2017 and said McDonald’s was a major part of the student culture in Dinkytown. The restaurant, endearingly referred to as “Drunk Don’s” by many students, was a popular hangout spot for people near campus, according to LoRusso. 

“I don’t think we thought much about the legacy just because it just was part of the fabric of Dinkytown at the time,” LoRusso said. 

Between the condensed student housing and small businesses, the spacious restaurant stood out for its bright red and yellow exterior and instantly recognizable architecture, LoRusso said. As people stepped into the building’s interior, the restaurant was reminiscent of the 1970s, when the restaurant was in its youth, and was a step backward in time against a neighborhood that began to change, according to LoRusso. 

However, LoRusso added that Dinkytown’s gentrification in recent years, with new restaurants and high-rise apartments, has made McDonald’s absence more impactful for those who remember the history and nostalgic charm it resembled in the neighborhood.

“There was a quaintness to [Dinkytown] that doesn’t really exist too much anymore,” LoRusso said. 

Current University student Rachel Gerszewski said she is happy to see McDonald’s back in Dinkytown because of its affordability combined with the opportunity to be a part of a culture students before her have gotten to experience.

Gerszewski added that the history of the previous McDonald’s has added to the anticipation for the new one with people raving about this restaurant before it even opens. 

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, they’re just adding a McDonald’s,’” Gerszewski said. “It’s like, ‘Oh my God it’s coming back.’”

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  • Madeline
    Oct 31, 2023 at 10:01 am

    Love McDonalds. Excellent story.

  • Bradley
    Oct 30, 2023 at 2:50 pm

    agreed Summie.

  • Summie
    Oct 30, 2023 at 1:56 am

    Beautiful story, McDonald 4 ever