MOORHEAD-After 39 years at the helm of the Speak Easy here, owner Jim Mercil is marking his last day at the restaurant and lounge on Friday, Nov. 25. The celebration, however, is a bittersweet one.
"It definitely is. It definitely is," Mercil said, his voice choking with emotion.
He said he ran the restaurant with his parents for years then partnered with a cook, Kent Larson, toward the end. Mercil said he and his partner have sold the restaurant, and the new owners will take over Dec. 1, though his last day is Friday.
Mercil blames months worth of road construction on Eighth Street South for driving customers away from his business, located at 1001 30th Ave. S. The Minnesota Department of Transportation was transforming the bridge over Interstate 94 into a "diverging diamond" style interchange.
"It just took away the regulars," he said. "No one from Fargo could get here."
Mercil said the drop in customers put the business in a tough spot.
"We lost a lot of money and couldn't recover from that," he said.
His business was hurt more than others, but wasn't the only one, he said. Sydney's Health Market, in the old Sunmart mall, closed during the construction.
As customer traffic waned, Mercil put the restaurant up for sale in August. Though the sale is now finalized, he didn't reveal the names of the new owners. He said he's not sure what they have planned-whether they'll continue operating the restaurant as is or offer something new.
Mercil said he'll soon be looking for a new job, but in the short term he's having a going-away party. Family, friends and customers are invited to the Friday evening event.