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Cedar Inn coming back to life

By Staff | Jan 3, 2016

Blue Earth resident Marc Meier, pictured above, left, recently purchased the Cedar Inn in Blue Earth, located on Highway 169. The iconic drive-in has been closed for three years. Norm Duggan, above, right, and his wife Roberta, owned and operated the Cedar Inn for 42 years, starting in 1973.

It’s going to be “Back to the Fifties” next spring in Blue Earth.

Well, back to the 1970s, 80s and 90s anyway.

The Cedar Inn is going to open up again.

A Blue Earth landmark for many, many years, the Cedar Inn has been closed for the past three years and it was thought it might never open again.

But, Blue Earth resident Marc Meier had other ideas.

Marc Meier is the new owner of the Cedar Inn. Above, the new logo for the business.

“It’s something that has always been in the back of my mind,” Meier says. “Owning my own restaurant. And, I had been thinking about the Cedar Inn for a long time.”

When a change in the management at the company he was working for left him unemployed earlier this year, Meier started thinking about it a lot.

“I decided the time was right to try and go on my own in the restaurant business, and my wife encouraged me,” he says. “So I started exploring the possibilities.”

It was back last May that he first approached former Cedar Inn owners Norman and Roberta Duggan about buying the business.

“It has been a long process,” says Meier. “We just signed the papers on Wednesday.”

Pictured is a busy day at the Cedar Inn from a few years ago, complete with classic cars.

Last July Meier started working with Tim Clawson of Faribault County Development Corporation, a local bank and the Small Business Development Center in Mankato.

“I had my business plan and my estimates for startup costs all figured out,” Meier says. “But, they have all helped me get the financing package put together. And, that has been a long process.”

The Blue Earth Economic Development Authority recently authorized a loan to Meier that will be used as ‘gap’ financing for the project.

Now that all the funding is in place, and Meier officially owns the business, he can proceed with all of his plans for the iconic drive-in.

That starts with the name.

“Oh, I am keeping the name Cedar Inn,” he says with a smile. “How could I change it? And, I plan on keeping it as a drive-in, just like it always has been.”

But, from there, he has some big plans for other changes. That will start with a lot of remodeling, inside and out.

“A lot of our financing is not just for the purchase, but for remodeling,” he says. “I have a lot of plans.”

Inside, the entire kitchen will be remodeled and upgraded. Much of the equipment has been removed or needs to be replaced. He will also redo the restrooms.

Outside there is a lot of work he wants to do, as well, from repairs to paint to fixing up. The plan is for new picnic tables, new awnings and much more.

“Everything needs help,” Meier says. “After being closed for a few years, there is a lot of work to be done before we can open it again.”

He plans to keep the menu much the same but also to change it up some.

“You have to have drive-in food,” he says. “But, I will put my own special stamp on it. I’ll use quality ingredients and good size portions. And there will be a few special surprises on the menu, as well.”

Those, however, remain a guarded secret at this time.

Meier knows what he is doing when it comes to preparing food.

“I have been in the restaurant-food service business for 30 years,” he explains. “At places like Burger King and KFC in the Cities and at Perkins and Hamiltons locally.”

Meier and his wife, Molly, a nurse at United Hospital District, have lived in Blue Earth for 20 years. They have two sons; Mason, 21, who lives in Eagle Lake, and Matthew, 16, a junior at Blue Earth Area High School.

“They are all excited (about the venture) and the whole family is for it,” Meier says. “And they say they are willing to help out when they can.”

The Meiers are not the only ones happy about the Cedar Inn opening again.

Norman Duggan calls Meier’s plan to open it up and run it as a drive-in still named the Cedar Inn is “fantastic.”

“My wife (Roberta) and daughter (Amy Duggan Pierce) and I are glad it is going to open again,” Duggan said. “We will help Marc out as much as we can. Amy worked at the drive-in a lot and loved it.”

It was in 1973 that the Duggans purchased the drive-in from Pat Newland after Norman Duggan had gotten out of the army.

“We ran it for 42 years and we did OK we raised three kids and the drive-in supported us well,” Duggan says. “And we didn’t run it in the winter; that wouldn’t have worked out anyway.”

He says business was really booming until the interstate highway was put in.

“Back when (Highway) 16 was the main road we had tremendous business all summer long,” he says. “We took a pretty good hit when I-90 became the highway. But business came back pretty good after that.”

They thought they might take another hit when McDonalds opened up in town, but Duggan says that didn’t make much of a dent in the business.

“We had a lot of fun running this place, too,” he says. “Roberta was sort of the hostess and loved to visit with everyone. We had special fun nights, like back to the fifties with old cars and music.”

They knew everyone in town, Duggan says, because everyone came to the drive-in the summer.

“We were somewhere one time and a little boy looked at Roberta and said, ‘Look mom, there’s Mrs. Cedar Inn!'” Duggan recalls. “And every spring everyone wanted to know when we were going to open up. We would never announce it, just open the place one day and people would immediately stop in.”

After they closed it permanently three years ago, people were still pleading for them to reopen it.

Now they can say it is going to happen, but under new ownership. However, the exact date of opening, just like it was for the 42 years of Duggan ownership, is not yet determined.

“I want to get it open by May,” Meier says. “But, to be honest, I am not sure of an exact date, just because there is a lot of work to be done between now and being able to open up.”

Meier says he is very appreciative of all the help he has had in his quest to reopen the Cedar Inn.

“Everyone has been very supportive the bank, the city, the EDA, FCDC they all seem to want to do whatever they can to help me buy it and open it back up,” he says. “And I am pretty sure the community will support us as well when it opens in the spring. That is the way Blue Earth is. I have lived here 20 years and I know people here will support a local business.”

Besides, there were a lot of disappointed people when the Cedar Inn did not reopen in the spring of 2013.

Now there is the good news that the Blue Earth drive-in, complete with burgers and fries, carhops and cones, will once again be the place to drive into and enjoy the great food of summer.