Photo by Michael Buckelew
DULUTH -- Thursday was chicken and dressing day, but Rexall Grill regulars had to fend for themselves after the state closed the legendary Duluth diner.
"It's devastating," Duluth Economic Development Director Chris McGahee said. "This is one of those places that is more than just a restaurant. It is one of those places the community would gather. ... The place means so much more than just the food."
Last year, the grill celebrated its 40th anniversary, and owner Linda Alley said it will celebrate more.
Alley is a pharmacist at Rexall Drugs, where Leonard Anglin opened a pharmacy for his son and a grill for himself to run so many decades ago.
Alley bought the building from Anglin in 1998, but Gail Herrin, the long-time grill manager, rented the grill and ran it as her own business.
A few weeks ago, state officials showed up because the business was behind in paying sales tax, Alley said. On Wednesday, they came back and closed the grill.
After reassuring regulars and community members Thursday morning, Alley said Herrin will hold an auction at the beginning of next month of the prized Coca-Cola memorabilia that decorated the restaurant.
Then, once the state returns the keys and new health inspections are performed, Alley promises to reopen the doors with the same staff and menu. The only difference, she said, is this time she will handle the financials, including payroll and taxes. Herrin, she said, will remain as manager.
"It's really not going to be a problem," she said, adding that she wants to try new ideas such as dinner hours and opening on Sunday to boost business. "I think in the long run this will be a blessing for her and for me."
Duluth Councilman Billy Jones said he hopes he can soon continue his tradition of eating at the grill two to three times a week.
"Everybody's kind of in shock right now," he said. "I'm disappointed for (the workers) that they don't have paychecks right now. ... I hope everything gets worked out."
The community, McGahee said, would be more than happy to help restore the Buford Highway landmark.
"In a sea of uncertainty, Rexall Grill is one of those constants that you count on to be there," he said, adding that it felt like a "kick in the gut" to find it closed. "For the community, it will hurt a great deal if it doesn't open back up. ... It's the people's restaurant."
Attempts to reach Herrin were unsuccessful.