Grandma Rosa Brochi

Duluth’s Grandma’s Restaurants use this photograph to represent the mythical “Grandma Rosa Brochi.” (Image: Grandma’s)

For years Grandma’s Restaurant in the Canal Park Business District marketed the building as once being the home of a brothel run by a madam named “Grandma Rosa Brochi” at the turn of the last century:

Grandma’s Restaurant Company was founded on the legend of Grandma Rosa and based on the principle of pleasing customers one at a time. Legend has it a young Italian immigrant named Rosa Brochi opened her first boarding house to lonely sailors in the Great Lakes port of Duluth, MN, near the turn of the 20th century. It was here that she started a lifelong commitment to customer satisfaction.

In 1900, the building that Grandma’s is housed in today was the St. Nicholas Hotel, named for the patron saint of sailors. It was not located in Duluth’s “designated” red light district north of Sutphin Street along the alley of St. Croix Avenue (today’s Canal Park Drive). Not that the hotel could not have been used for prostitution, but if so it would have been a matter of a single woman plying her trade solo. The women who ran these houses knew they were safe in the Tenderloin, and would have been foolish to set up a brothel elsewhere. There are also no records of a “Rosa Brochi” living in Duluth during that time.

Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.