While Mike’s Cafe and Pizzeria sat empty early in the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 18, it wasn’t really a problem.

It was more like the calm before the storm for Esko’s only sit-down eatery.

The owners — father-daughter team Mike Prachar and Andrea King — have been swamped with carry-out and delivery orders since they took over ownership of the restaurant at the beginning of November.

Prachar owned and operated Mike’s Western Cafe on Superior Street in West Duluth for 38 years, and King began helping her dad out as a 10-year-old, but the restaurant was forced to close permanently in March. Gov. Tim Walz’s first shutdown order limited bars and restaurants to carry-out and delivery orders only.

“My restaurant there was smaller, only 12 booths,” Prachar said. “When we could only open up at 50%, it was only six booths. I couldn’t live on six booths, and it wouldn’t work for outdoor dining.”

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Prachar said they tried to do take-out for a short time, but the restaurant never reopened following the initial shutdown.

“In 38 years at Mike’s Western Cafe, I had two vacations,” Prachar said. “I like to work and it was scary not working for seven months.”

The duo spent time looking into places they could turn into a restaurant — even inquiring about converting the former gas station across the street into a cafe — but King had heard Eskomo Pies owner Pete Radosevich was closing the doors to the Esko institution at the end of October.

Instead of shuttering Eskomo Pies completely, Radosevich leased the restaurant space to Prachar and King.

More importantly, Prachar and King were able to spend more than two weeks working with Radosevich and the staff at Eskomo Pies to learn the ropes of running a pizza parlor.

Debbie Prachar preps some pizza dough before Mike's Cafe and Pizza opened Wednesday, Nov. 18, in Esko. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)
Debbie Prachar preps some pizza dough before Mike's Cafe and Pizza opened Wednesday, Nov. 18, in Esko. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)

“Pete was real good about teaching us, plus he’s in the same building” Prachar said. “He said, ‘If you get in a bind, don’t be afraid to give me a rattle and I’ll come give you a hand.’”

When the new place opened, the response was overwhelming, according to King. Prachar, his wife, Debbie, and King have lived in Esko most of their lives, and the community rallied around their new endeavor.

“You just wouldn’t believe the support we’ve gotten from the community — it’s just amazing” she said. “I mean we’ve only been open for 17 days and we’ve had return customers like you wouldn’t believe.”

King added some of the regulars from Mike’s Western Cafe have made the trek down to check out the new restaurant in Esko.

With help from Debbie and King’s husband, John, the family opened on a delivery and carry-out only basis Nov. 2 and began offering daily specials for dine-in customers — including some classics from Mike’s Western Cafe like hamburger gravy — about a week later.

John King sauces a pizza in the kitchen of Mike's Cafe and Pizzeria in Esko. King's wife, Andrea, and her father, Mike Prachar, recently opened the restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Eskomo Pies. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)
John King sauces a pizza in the kitchen of Mike's Cafe and Pizzeria in Esko. King's wife, Andrea, and her father, Mike Prachar, recently opened the restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Eskomo Pies. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)

They planned to begin opening at 7 a.m. for breakfast beginning Dec. 1, but Walz’s latest four week shutdown order prohibiting indoor dining delayed that move.

For now, Mike’s Cafe and Pizzeria is open for carry-out and delivery from 3-7 p.m. daily.