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Blue Ox to become ‘Depot on 1st’

BEMIDJI — A season of business changes will continue in early June when the building now occupied by the Blue Ox Bar & Grill becomes the Depot on 1st.

The building’s Brainerd-based owner, Denis Villella, confirmed the news Tuesday. He hopes to open the new restaurant June 6, with a grand opening event later in the summer.

While the aesthetics inside of the building, located at 128 First St. W, won’t change much initially, Villella said he hopes to “do some more family stuff.” Like the Blue Ox, it will feature live music.

“We should get some good entertainment up there,” Villella said.

The Blue Ox, owned by Michelle Soltis, has leased the building for the past three years. Villella and his partner, Dennis Coverston, will own the business as well as the building, Villella said.

Soltis announced earlier this year she was not renewing her lease that ends Friday, citing health and personal reasons. She had planned a final concert for this weekend before it was canceled due to the quick turnaround.

The bar’s last day of business was Saturday night, Soltis said.

“I haven’t even really had time to process the whole thing,” Soltis said. “I like this place, but it’s just a tremendous amount of work.

“I’m kind of just focused on what we have to do in the next couple weeks to get this transition over with, and get the next stage of my life all situated.”

The Bemidji City Council approved transferring the liquor license over to the Depot on 1st Inc. during the May 20 council meeting.

The building was occupied for nearly three decades by the Union Station restaurant until it closed in 2005. Villella’s Bada Bing!, which was operated by Denis Villella’s relative, opened in 2008 before the Blue Ox took over.

Villella hopes the new business will be there long-term.

“It’s a whole different environment today than it was 10, 15 years ago, as far as the economy,” Villella said. 

The switch will mean another change in the Union Square area in the southern part of downtown.

The Design Center down the street will undergo changes this summer as well, as North Dakota-based St. Michel Furniture and Sears plan to move into the building. 

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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