FARGO — The Cajun Cafe on the city’s south side has closed after two decades, the business a victim of the difficulty finding reliable help as the pandemic wanes, an owner said.
The closing announcement came in a brief Facebook message posted by owners Mary and Gary Gilbertson Tuesday evening, June 22.
“After 20 years we have decided to close the restaurant. We are thankful and blessed to have served and met so many wonderful people. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” the Gilbertsons wrote.
Signs saying the same thing were posted on the door of the restaurant at 1324 25th Ave. S.
Reached Wednesday morning, Gilbertson said that business was good, but that it has been tough finding reliable help through the pandemic. That turned a job that is naturally very busy into a grind. Nearing 60, he said he and his wife decided that closing and putting the restaurant up for sale was their best option.
"At 58 years old, I’ll be 59 (soon), and being a little short on employees and stuff, the amount of work is extreme," Gilbertson said.
Gilbertson said state and federal government aid got them through the pandemic, cleared much of their debt and got them back in operation. But it was the difficulty getting and keeping reliable workers that proved to be too much.
"Truthfully, we’re busier than ever. But help not coming to work, and help that has the license to not listen to you," meant he was forced to take up the slack, he said. “Being at my age, you know … that’s pretty tough on a guy. Food and beverage is a high-paced business. You go as fast as you can and as hard as you can for hours on end, and that gets to be a little much at my age."
Gilbertson, who grew up in north Moorhead, said he worked in Fargo-Moorhead restaurants his entire life before opening the Cajun Cafe.
His wife has a full-time job at Fargo's Airport Animal Hospital. (She would work at the restaurant on the weekends, he said.) He plans to look for a job "helping someone else out."
He said he'll miss the customers he's met over the years, many of whom became friends.
“We're blessed over here. We do this with a smile. It’s not a bad deal. It is just what it is today,” Gilbertson said.
"We do this with all smiles. It’s not a sad thing. It’s a happy thing - a success - in that people are lining up to tell us” that we'll be missed, Gilbertson said. “We’re appreciative and really loved. it.”
Gilbertson said his contact information is posted on the restaurant's front door in case people need to reach him, perhaps to get a gift certificate reimbursed.
“I have a lot of great memories," Gilbertson said. "We very much appreciate everything.”
- Bath & Body Works relocating to bigger West Acres mall digs
The Cajun Cafe first opened at 202 Broadway in downtown Fargo in 2001, according to Forum files. The menu included traditional cafe food and Cajun favorites, such as shrimp creole.
In December 2005, the Gilbertson's announced that they planned to move to the former Deano's location in south Fargo by the start of 2006.
Reaction from customers to the closure was sadness. Many posted their thoughts on the Cajun Cafe Facebook page.
“The sweet potato pancakes were the best!! Also going to miss the monster cookies. Going to miss this place,” wrote Justin Thompson.
“We are so sad to hear this. You have been our favorite place for breakfast for many years - the absolute best in Fargo-Moorhead. Thank you for all the wonderful meals and memories we have shared at the Cajun Cafe. We wish you all the best,” wrote Sarah Nasello.