End of an era: Bemidji’s Maid-Rite Cafe closes its doors after 27 years of memories
The parking lot is full and so are the booths at the Maid-Rite Cafe.
Judy Black, who has owned and managed the business for 27 years, is taking food orders and helping out in the kitchen.
It is not just any other Saturday for the restaurant. It is May 11, the last day the Maid-Rite Cafe will be open. And emotions for some are high.
The business has been purchased by Lueken’s Village Foods, which plans to remodel and reopen it later this year.
“Thank you for all the great years,” a customer yells out to Judy after paying her bill and heading out the door.
“It was an emotional day,” Judy said later. “I’ve made a lot of really close friends here over the years.”
A customer sang her “A Tear in My Soup” on the last day. He wrote the lyrics down in a letter for Judy.
“We got some cards, as well,” she added.
As she and husband Curtis, also a co-owner of the restaurant, were cleaning out the cafe the following Monday, Judy shared her story of the Maid-Rite.
In the beginning
Judy and Curtis Black married a year after graduating high school. They had four children together.
For a few years, after they got married, they lived in southern Minnesota.
Returning to Bemidji, they found jobs, but work for Judy came to a brief halt.
“I was working at MPI (Manufacturing) and they had some downsizing. That was in ’84 or ’85.” Judy said. “So, I was off for a little while and then this small restaurant became available.”
They bought the Maid-Rite Cafe, then located downtown, in 1986 from Lucille Wright.
“She’s (Lucille) kind of known in Bemidji,” Judy said. “She’s owned a lot of different restaurants. She lived about a mile from my parents. So I have known her all my life. When I first got out of high school, I actually worked for her. There used to be a truck stop where the Super Buffet is now, and I worked there.”
Wright’s work ethic transferred into Judy’s way of operation with the restaurant, she said.
“You really learned to work when you worked for her. She had high expectations and that was my first job. So, I got kind of broken in,” Judy said with a laugh.
Not only did Judy need the work after MPI, she wanted her children to work, too.
“My kids were teenagers at that time and they needed a job,” she said with a laugh. “I needed them to have a job. I think I expected them to set the example (for other employees) also.”
Wright’s sister, Marge Hirt, was the waitress when the Blacks bought the place. “She knew these people from when Lucille owned it. So we would see them walking in the door and she would put their breakfast on. She was just like their mother. And she was about 20 years older than me. So she was kind of like a mother there,” Judy said.
Maid-Rite’s move out of downtown did impact the business. “We did lose some people. Especially retired people. Some of them would eat three meals a day at the restaurant,” Judy said.
It’s the people she’s going to miss the most, Judy said.
“It’s amazing how many people had been in here through the years,” she said. “We kind of know everything about them. Sometimes, I don’t even know their name, but we know everything about them.
“And now we’re hearing they came in here with their parents or grandparents and now they’re bringing their grandchildren.”
The next chapter will be a little less work for Judy.
“I do a lot of gardening, flower gardens and vegetable garden. And I have 13 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, so that’ll take a lot of time.
“I worked six days a week, there’s not much time left over,” she said with a laugh. “And besides, I’m tired when I get home.”
May 1 marked 27 years since they bought the Maid-Rite. Ten days later, Judy was saying goodbye. But the farewell was hectic.
“The final two days were busy,” Judy said. “Actually the whole two weeks before were crazy.”
Customers filled the place, the kitchen was busy preparing the meals and Judy was rushing between tables to the kitchen to make sure everything was going smoothly.
Now that it’s over, it’s the atmosphere she’s going to miss the most.
“I really enjoyed the 27 years I worked here, but it’s time to move to another stage of my life,” she said.