DULUTH – A beloved local diner in the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood has closed its doors after 38 years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m just too small — 12 booths, or six at 50% capacity, and nowhere to put outdoor seating,” said Mike Prachar, owner of Mike’s Western Cafe. “I was waiting for something to change and it just wasn’t changing.”
Prachar, 60, bought the cafe at 2803 W. Superior St. when he was 23 years old and cooked nearly every meal that came out of the kitchen, taking only two vacations during his tenure.
“I met thousands of people here, and I’m really thankful I had a good following,” he said on Thursday while selling the remaining supply of branded T-shirts. “Nothing made me happier than when I’d make a kettle of soup and someone would ask, ‘Who made that? And when will you make it again?’ ”
The cafe closed in March as pandemic restrictions were put in place in Minnesota, and Prachar opted not to reopen this summer with limited capacity. He has since continued to pay rent, but with heating bills looming this winter, the decision to shut down weighed heavily.
“I tossed and turned many nights wondering what I was going to do,” he said.
Prachar ran the business with his wife, Deb, and their family. As employees retired over the years he took on more work to keep the cafe open.
“I was here constantly, from open to close at the end,” he said. “It’s a small place; you’re married to it.”
Duluth has so far been spared the wave of restaurant closures hitting the Twin Cities and other metro areas as the tourism economy rebounded this summer. The Zeitgeist Arts Cafe closed indefinitely in August, but plans are to reopen once conditions allow.
Friends and regulars of Mike’s Western Cafe poured out their condolences and gratitude on social media after the cafe’s closure was announced.
“The food was fantastic, and I mean FANTASTIC, but it wasn’t even about the food,” Justin Sund wrote on Facebook. “It was the feeling of small-town life and knowing people by names and faces. When strangers would make room for you, and Mike and his family would always make sure you were taken care of.”
Kathleen Crooks wrote on Facebook she was “dreading this.”
“You were my favorite restaurant,” she wrote. “This was the place that was like going home for me. I always looked forward to eating here before I moved up from the cities.”
While many were wishing the Prachars a happy retirement, there is still a chance the restaurant will be revived in a new location.
“I like working too much. I had a summer off and I’m ready to get back to work,” Prachar said. “I hope there’s another chapter.”