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From Hostel To Tacos And Beyond

“You’re turning your barn into a what?

This was the standard response Jeremy and Kate Keeble heard when they told people of their plans to transform their 10-acre homestead just outside Grand Marais into a hostel. But the Keeble’s knew they were on to something. Jeremy had spent a lot of time in hostels, having come to Grand Marais after hiking the Appalachian Trail.

“I’d been in Dallas doing construction,” Jeremy says. “I got burned out. I thought, ‘I’m done, I can’t do this anymore, I wanna go hiking.’ So, I quit my job. My parents dropped me off in Georgia and five-and-a-half months later picked me up in Maine.”

He followed the Appalachian Trail up by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, affording him even more time alone with his thoughts.

“Having a construction mind, I’d stay at all these hostels and then think about them while hiking, developing ideas. I’ve got designs for ones in the desert, ones in the mountains. I thought, ‘I can build a hostel anywhere.’”

Anywhere ended up being Grand Marais.

Kate was a professionally trained chef, having studied at Le Cordon Bleu and worked as the executive chef for the Gunflint Lodge. They met across the deli counter at the Whole Foods Co-op, and quickly struck up a friendship that became more on hikes of their own.

“I was used to cutting handles off toothbrushes to lighten my pack weight,” Jeremy says now with a broad smile. “I cooked off a little titanium stove with denatured alcohol.”

So he was surprised when, on one of their first hikes together, Kate cooked up angel hair pasta with smoked salmon and pesto, all with products from her pack.

Maybe you could say it was love at first bite.

The hikes kept happening and it wasn’t long before Jeremy and Kate got married. For their honeymoon, they’d planned to explore the Grand Tetons. Trouble was, they were closed and Kate and Jeremy found themselves holed up around Custer State Park in the Black Hills. It was there, spending time in nearby Rapid City and seeing how the town had been transformed to take advantage of the hikers and campers seeking simple lodging near park land that their hostel idea took hold. 

“Grand Marais connects to the Superior Hiking Trail, Isle Royale, the Boundary Waters, there was just so much to do up here,” says Kate.

By this time, Jeremy had taken the position as Chief Engineer for the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino and they had purchased their homestead, complete with a horse barn for horses they didn’t have. Shortly after returning from their honeymoon, Project Hostel began in earnest.

“I took my knowledge of occupancy rates and my construction skills, gutted the barn, and removed the horse stalls,” Jeremy says.

“It wasn’t a huge investment,” Kate adds. “We owned the property and he could do all the construction work.” And, while they had friendly disagreements over things like bare-bones accommodations vs. nice design, they quickly settled on a setup that they thought just might work. All they needed was a name.

“The idea came out of all the time we spent hiking and the way Kate and I were sometimes viewed — as this wild couple who’d moved from big cities to settle in Grand Marais,” Jeremy says. And, with that, the Hungry Hippie Hostel opened in 2016.

Three months later, Kate quit her job and turned to managing the hostel full-time. After their first summer season, the Star Tribune listed them as one of the “Top 6 places in the region to visit.” At that point, the phone started ringing off the hook and thoughts of expanding began to take hold.

“That first year there were never any open rooms,” Jeremy says. “People would come out of the woods and ask to throw up their tents in the yard. We always said ‘yes.’ That was the hostel experience we were trying to create; accepting all hikers and outdoors enthusiasts.”

But all those lawn campers cemented the issue: they needed more space. Five rooms and a bunk house quickly expanded to six private rooms with a shared common space, including an upgraded queen suite in the barn loft, plus a campground with shower facilities and a few glamping tents for good measure.

Now that they had the space handled, they needed to do something about their guests’ stomachs. Namely, they were hungry and were looking for good, filling food. As for Kate, she loved managing the hostel but was eager to flex her culinary muscles. But there was no way for them to cook commercially at the hostel.

So, in 2018, they took over the space and menu from Hughie’s Tacos, a Grand Marais institution known for its “puffy tacos,” pairing Kate’s culinary technique and creativity with Jeremy’s skill at smoked meats to reimagine and relaunch the restaurant under a new name: Hungry Hippie Tacos.

“Hungry Hippie Homestead led to Hungry Hippie Hostel led to Hungry Hippie Tacos,” says Kate, smiling. “We just thought, let’s piggyback on our brand name.”

Piggybacking would turn out to be something they did quite well as, just a few short years after opening their first taco shop, they set their eyes on a second location, this time in Duluth’s thriving Lincoln Park Craft District.

“We loved the neighborhood and all that was happening and we wanted to put something there,” Jeremy says. “But the banks in Grand Marais thought it was too risky of an idea to finance.”

On a recommendation from their Duluth realtor, Kate reached out to NBC on a whim and got connected with the man they now refer to in single-word terms like “efficient” and “shiny” — or, as their general manager Casey more colorfully declares: “Buckley is the S#!t.”

That would be Buckley Simmons, NBC Commercial Banker.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘I don’t understand why banks aren’t giving you money,’” Kate recalls. “NBC was all over it. Buckley had it done in no time at all. He gets in there and gets his hands dirty. He’s so amazing at what he does.”

“Buckley came in and helped us make everything happen,” Jeremy agrees. “Buckley is a go-getter. You ask him a question and he’s all-in to help you out. He’s a genuinely good dude.”

The Duluth location of Hungry Hippie Tacos opened in the summer of 2022 and business is booming. While the couple and their kids still call Grand Marais home, they make sure to check-in on their second location every week.

“Our trips to Duluth on Thursdays are our chance to breathe and relax, eat our food, and see what we built,” Jeremy says. But that doesn’t mean the building is done.

“We’re not slowing down or stopping,” Kate says. “We’re gonna keep pushing.”

Future plans involve a cookbook, a YouTube channel, more restaurants and who knows — maybe even a television show. You can’t fault them for dreaming big. So far, every dream they’ve had has been made possible by hard work, creativity, and the right team of partners to help you push.

“Buckley and the bank are very down to earth and easy to work with,” Kate says. “He always provides the personal touch.”

“You gotta find others who believe like you believe — and in what you believe,” Jeremy says. And they seem to have found that in Buckley and NBC.

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