Eric Dayton, with his brother, Andrew (r), as pictured in the Wall Street Journal

Eric Dayton, with his brother, Andrew (r), as pictured in the Wall Street Journal

Eric Dayton ’03 is one of the star young retail entrepreneurs of the Twin Cities.  His restaurant, The Bachelor Farmer, is one of those trendy locavore establishments with a farm on its roof, and has helped catapult the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to #5 on Zagat’s list of Next Hot Food Cities. His men’s clothing boutique, Askov Finlayson, has been named one of the best men’s clothing stores in America. And the renowned 1881 warehouse hosting these and his other businesses (including a speakeasy, sausage cart, and coffeehouse/café) features his own design inputs, including chairs and a rug from the apartment he shares with his brother.

But Dayton is also a leader in Minnesota’s attempt to rebrand itself as “The North” and thereby distinguish the state from the tendency of coastal-Americans to lump it in with the Midwest:

We’re Midwest if you’re looking at it from New York City or from anywhere on [the East] Coast,” Dayton told me. “But then again, that’s someone else’s definition. I think it’s time for us to claim our own.”

Dayton and his brother, Andrew, whose father is the state’s governor, are Minneapolis businessmen whose clothing store and restaurant have a decidedly local flavor. Eric Dayton, after touring Scandinavia (many Minnesotans are of Norwegian descent), became enthralled by the region’s strong identity. It proudly embraced its chilly weather, its food, its culture, its… Northiness.

So why, he questioned, didn’t Minnesota?

“The New York Times had done an article highlighting different Thanksgiving side dishes,” Dayton told me. “For Minnesota, they named grape salad as our signature side dish. And no one in Minnesota had ever heard of grape salad… it was kind of a harmless example, but if we don’t tell the rest of the country who we are, we end up with grape salad.”

I know. Arrogant Minnesota,” Dayton joked. “That’s what everyone thinks of when they think of Minnesota. Right? No, again, this isn’t about being better. It’s not a relative thing. It’s just I think there are a lot of great things happening in Minnesota. It’s not being recognized. I think it’s important for the reasons we’ve discussed that there is recognition of what we have to offer. And so it’s just putting forth our story. It’s not trying to make it look better than it is. It’s not comparing ourselves to anyone else.”

“The Midwest tends to be what’s left over after all the other regions are identified,” says Eric Dayton. “It’s so big and poorly defined, there can’t be unifying characteristics to identify with.”

Carving Minnesota out from the Midwest makes plenty of sense — the term is used to cover such a sprawling region that it’s almost nondescriptive. But is it reasonable for Minnesota to appropriate the term “the North”?

Askov Finlayson's "North" hat, as photographed by Joe Huber, and published in Macalester College's student newspaper, "The Mac Weekly"

Askov Finlayson’s “North” hat, as photographed by Joe Huber, and published in Macalester College’s student newspaper, “The Mac Weekly”

As an Eph, even if Williamstown’s chilly climate seemed moderate to a Minnesotan, Dayton should surely be cognizant of the desire of Massachusetts’ northern neighbors to be recognized as North-y themselves. Indeed, much confusion has been caused by the desire of both Minnesota and Maine to appropriate to their own geographies the term “North Woods.” Not to mention, where does this leave Canada? Alaska? Santa Claus?

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