Magnolia steakhouse closes its doors
LUVERNE -- An icon in southwest Minnesota for 73 years closed its doors without warning and left employees -- many with decades of service -- without jobs on Wednesday.
Roughly 24 hours later, they were still in a state of shock, wondering what prompted owner Tim Rohrbach to post signs on the doors of the Magnolia Restaurant and Bar -- formerly the Magnolia Steakhouse -- saying the business was closed.
Diane Sherwood arrived at the restaurant just before 4 p.m. Wednesday to see the notice on the window and find the doors locked. Less than half an hour later, fellow employees Joan Heeren and Deb Iveness faced the same reality.
Heeren had been an employee at the steakhouse for 54 years. Now, at age 78, she said she's officially retired.
Unfortunately, that won't be possible for Sherwood, who relied on her job as a bartender at the Mag as her sole source of income.
"It hit me harder today," said Sherwood via telephone Thursday night. "Last night I tried to be strong -- we tried to talk through things with each other as co-workers. It really hit me harder today."
Sherwood said she spent the day trying to figure out what to do next -- and wondering why the owners haven't been willing to talk.
Calls placed to the Rohrbach home in Brandon, S.D., were unanswered Thursday night, and a cell phone number was no longer in service.
Tim Rohrbach purchased the Magnolia Steakhouse on Nov. 13, 2009, from Amy Dispanet VerSteeg, the third generation of the Dispanet family that had built the establishment into an institution over 71 years.
Employees said changes were made when Rohrbach took over, and business had not been like it was. Still, they can only speculate as to why the doors were closed.
Heeren said that when she and Iveland drove to the restaurant early Wednesday evening, she spotted Rohrbach through the window. When she stopped to get out and approach the door, she saw Rohrbach hurry away.
"He went and hid in the bar," said Heeren, who felt a wave of emotions from anger to frustration and wonderment.
Iveland watched as Heeren's quest for answers was ignored.
"He certainly wasn't going to converse with us and give us any explanation of anything," Iveland said. "All he would have had to say is 'I'm sorry, we can't give you details.' At least it would have been a bit of an answer.
"My heart just broke for Joan -- (he) was so very disrespectful," she added.
After being ignored by the owner, Heeren tried to call his son, who was the business manager at the restaurant, but struck out there as well.
"And now we're wondering -- this is pay week, will we get our paychecks?" Heeren asked. "It's a mess -- it's a big loss for the town."
Iveland, who marked her 30th anniversary with the Mag in November, said she feels a great loss for the community. In all, the business had about 30 employees, and its customers seemed as loyal as its employees.
"It's just unbelievable that this happened, and very disheartening to all of us employees," said Iveland. "None of us were given any notification of it happening. We are as clueless as anyone else."
"I just think it's so very disrespectful to the city of Luverne -- to every employee that was out there," she added. "It's a very sad thing -- it's a huge loss for the city of Luverne. When you're trying to keep a small town like Luverne going, that's sad -- it's a huge loss."
While employees showed up to work on Wednesday to find signs on the doors saying the business was closed, as they reflected Thursday on the event, they realized there had been a few signs in recent weeks that something was amiss.
Occasionally they were running out of food items that were offered on the menu, and staff began noticing some of the décor disappearing, including Jim Brandenburg prints and knickknacks that had adorned the walls for years.
Just in the last few days, they began to notice other things as well.
"I even questioned (Rohrbach) on what the specials were for Easter weekend, but he didn't have a plan," said Heeren. "Every other place has an ad in the paper, not his."
Iveland said in visiting with other employees who had gathered Wednesday evening, she learned that some were instructed not to stock the beer cooler or the freezer.
"The wait staff Tuesday night ran out of French dressing and went to open up a case and (Rohrbach's son) said, 'Don't open it -- we're sending that back,'" Iveland said.
Sherwood said she did get a call from Rohrbach's wife, Dawn, Wednesday night, saying, "We're closed for a few days and we'll let you know if we figure something out."
Sherwood tried to ask questions, but wasn't given the opportunity.
"A lot of us put in a lot of time -- we worked whatever shifts were asked of us," Sherwood said. "We feel bad for the community. This is a hardship for the community and all the employees that counted on it."