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Published September 17 2010

Classic car business grows from restaurant and back again

LAKE PARK, Minn. – When Jeff Haugrud first put out an ad seeking a retro car – “Wanted: old pickup, 1950s or older” – he was just looking for a nifty piece of scenery to set the mood outside his Lake Park diner.

Then he found himself inundated with responses from willing sellers – and, after he got the vehicle, even more responses from people who wanted to buy it. And almost by accident, Haugrud made the leap from mom-and-pop restaurateur to classic car dealer.

“I just started selling,” he said. “I loved the product.”

That was about a decade ago. Today, Haugrud buys and sells cars full time, scrounging up classic vehicles that might be sitting on farms or in storage, sprucing them up, and selling them to buyers throughout the United States and overseas.

It’s a line of work that requires a fair bit of investment – buying a 1933 Ford Three-Window isn’t cheap – but offers substantial returns: Haugrud said he’s often able to resell cars for two or three times what he pays for them.

Zach Pepper, Haugrud’s mechanic, is the man responsible for restoring the cars. He’s worked in the shop for about year and said he’s enjoyed every minute of it.

“I come to work every day and get to do something most people only get to do on weekends,” he said.

Haugrud operates out of an old gas station off Highway 10. The lot is filled with antiquated vehicles in conditions ranging from mint to derelict, and a few of the old gas pumps are still standing.

A year ago, he sold his diner, Peggy Lou’s (since replaced by a Casey’s General Store), and moved across the street. Last month, he opened a 1950s-style burger and malt joint adjacent to the auto shop. The walls are covered in throwback auto signs, and the menu sticks to the basics: burgers, fries and 15 flavors of ice cream.

Haugrud dubbed the entire complex the “Old Skool Barnyard” (the auto shop is known locally as the Old Skool Speed Shop but goes by the more subdued moniker of Classics Plus Autos online).

He jokes that he opened the diner “so we’d have something to sell” to the passers-by who stopped to snap photos of the car shop. The setup was picturesque enough to catch the eye of Brian Brasch, the president of specialty automotive parts shop Branick Industries of Fargo. Brasch liked Haugrud’s retro setup so much that he used it for a photo shoot for some of his company’s own products.

“I think that’s the best-looking shop on all of Highway 10,” Brasch said. “It’s pretty neat when some people pay tribute to the way things used to be.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502