After 40-plus years, the restaurant life has finally worn on Mike Pracher, co-owner of Mike’s Café & Pizzeria in Esko, Minnesota.

In a recent post on Facebook, Pracher and his wife/partner, Debbie, announced their beloved old-school pizza shop will close its doors for good on Friday, May 24.

Last November Pracher underwent surgery for abdominal repair and removal of a hernia. At that time, his restaurant had to cut back its hours and its menu as his family braced for what they predicted to be “a painful and long recovery.”

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The pandemic was another setback a few years earlier. The Prachers previously owned Mike’s Western Café, a 12-booth restaurant in West Duluth, Minnesota, that they ran for 38 years before starting anew in Esko in 2020. That move, in which they took over and rebranded an existing pizzeria called Eskomo Pies, sprang from necessity; with COVID-19 raging across the state, their Duluth restaurant could only operate at 50%, as Pracher told the Pine Journal. “I couldn’t live on six booths, and it wouldn’t work for outdoor dining.”

Under the guidance of Eskomo Pies’ former owner, the Prachers had to learn the pizza business from scratch. But opening Mike’s Café & Pizzeria was, in a sense, a homecoming for the family. They have lived in Esko most of their lives, anyway, and the community embraced their new restaurant concept.

Regardless, on February 26, the Prachers announced to their nearly 3,000 Facebook followers that they were calling it quits.

“Our time in Esko was an amazing way to end the MANY years of our restaurant career, and now Mike and Deb are ready for the semi-retired life,” the post read.

More tellingly, the post continued, “Mike has worked hard in the restaurant business for almost 50 years, and it has taken a toll on his body, so it’s time for him to slow a bit (and for those who know him, that’s very hard to do) and ENJOY life!”

Pracher’s comments to the Pine Journal in 2020 suggest he was never one to take it easy on himself. “In 38 years at Mike’s Western Café, I had two vacations,” he said. “I like to work, and it was scary not working for seven months.”

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