Interview with a hotelier: Karen Burgum, Hotel Donaldson

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  Site Where: 101 Broadway [map], Fargo, ND, United States, 58102
December 29, 2004 at 3:23 PM | by | ()

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Hotel Donaldson is a true destination hotel. How do we define a destination hotel? We hear about a hotel, go to the website, and say we have to go to the property...now. Then we realize it is in Fargo, ND, and without missing a beat, we are on Hotwire looking for low fares to Fargo in the middle of December none the less! Now that is a hotel with charisma.

This hotels founder and owner, Karen Burgum, is known as the “godmother of downtown Fargo” not in a Vito Corleone way, but not in a Rose Nilan way either. Thankfully, she is somewhere in between. The retired software executive bought a building in downtown Fargo and turned it into an energetic, locally relevant, hotel.

What do you think of when we say Fargo? Well, when you are done reading this interview you will still think of that movie, but you might also think of a cool little hotel in the midst of a recovering downtown.

Yah, you betcha.

Read the interview after the jump.

Name: Karen Burgum

Title: Owner, Hotel Donaldson

Hotel Fun Facts:

  • It's in Fargo, eh? On top of that the hotel features heated bathroom floors, which may not sound very fun, until you have spent a bit of time in Fargo during the winter.

  • Feels like a New York boutique hotel smack dab in the middle of Fargo.

When did you guys open Hotel Donalson?

The Hotel Donaldson re-opened in August of 2003.

How many rooms?


Tell us the story of software executive-cum-hotelier?

During my mid-life awakening I determined I wanted to create memorable experiences. At the time, downtown Fargo was just beginning it's renaissance efforts. There were lots of old, tired buildings with great history. I started looking for a building before I had a purpose. The Hotel Donaldson felt right. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to showcase our community to travelers as well as having people who live here be able to take a trip without leaving town.

What can we expect to pay?

$144.00 It's Fargo.

Does Hotel Davidson offer any web deals?


[Hey, at $144 do you really need a much better deal? Maybe in February when it is 1 degree outside in Fargo, but still, $144 seems fair.]

Ok, we hear a lot of "talk" about creating a "destination hotel" from hotel mucky mucks, but this is the first true destination hotel we have found (meaning we went to your website, read about your hotel and found ourselves wanting to go to Fargo just for the hotel), and it is in Fargo, how did that happen?

I get asked this question often. And without meaning to sound flip, the answer is - it couldn't be anywhere else. Our mission is to create memorable experiences for our guests and teammates by celebrating our community's visual, culinary, performing and literary art. The Hotel Donaldson creates a place for people to enjoy what we have - who we are. Local musicians rock the house. We have over 60 regional visual artists in our collection. We buy organic and naturally raised beef, bison, lamb, poultry and produce from our neighbors and there's prairie grass on the roof (next to the hot tub). I live in Fargo because it's a wonderful place with talented, caring, thoughtful and hospitable people. It is truly a pleasure to gather some of our "cool" under one roof.

Ok, we hear you guys serve local "walleye cakes" at your restaurant, what are those?

They're good! Had some today with my kids. It's one of their favorites. It's our take on the crab cake.

Tell us about these "ceiling filling bath tubs", are they in every room?

One room has the soak tub that fills from the ceiling - #17. The art in that room is Richard Bresnahan's. He's one of 2 potters that have been given the distinction of Master Potter by Japan. He grew up in ND and teaches at St. John's University in MN. Very Zen. There's a whirlpool tub in the Big Dog Room, our largest suite. If you are a big dog, or just want to feel like one, this is the room.

Best guest complaint?

A ghost in the room. We were booked, so the guest opted to sleep on the sofa in the Gathering Space.

Best celebrity guest story?

Pro athletes and politians to date - I'm sure there are stories to tell in those categories, but nothing I'm aware of. The music gigs coming to town travel with large crews and they want to stay at the same place - we're too small. I heard James Taylor wanted to stay at The Hotel...

Do you think Hotel Donaldson has turned Fargo from bleak to sheik?

Not solely of course, there are many committed businesses that have been at it longer than we have. It's an honor to be a part of what's happening in Fargo. We're worth the trip!

What do you think of those Coen brothers...friends or foes?

ABSOLUTELY friends! Not only have I always loved their work, we owe them a big thank-you (or a Hotel Donaldson gift certificate - wish they were on the celebrity list). No matter where I go, there's always a good laugh and the chance to dispel the myth. You can't pay for that PR. There are many downtowns across the country that have gone or are going through a rebirth. Thanks to Joel and Ian, lots of the world knows about Fargo. I'll ride that wave.

Thanks Karen, for taking the time, and we will try and get to Fargo for a visit ASAP. The rest of you Hotel Mavens should do the same.

Happy Travels!

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