Downtown landmark Mac's Cafe to close
Another downtown Rochester institution — Mac's Cafe and Restaurant — will soon close its doors for good. After more than cooking American-Greek cuisine for more than 60 years, the prominent landmark on the Peace Plaza at 20 First Ave. SW is...
Another downtown Rochester institution — Mac's Cafe and Restaurant — will soon close its doors for good.
After cooking American-Greek cuisine for more than 60 years, the prominent landmark on the Peace Plaza at 20 First Ave. SW is slated to go dark on Dec. 8.
"I've worked here since I was 10 years old. I'm really proud to have been a part of it. I'm proud of everyone I've gotten to work with," said second-generation owner George Psomas.
Mac's, which opened in 1949, was purchased by George's uncle Stan Kapenis in 1952. In 1969, it opened in the current location. His father, Jimmy Psomas, took over when Kapenis retired. George did the same when his father retired.
The restaurant and its menu have been updated over the years, but it still retains the feel of a 1950s diner with a lunch counter with historic photos and decorative Greek plates on the walls. Macs is known for its hearty breakfasts, homemade soups, hand-cut steaks and, of course, its Greek specialties like spanakopita and sweet baklava.
"It has always been a special place," Psomas said. "You could have a billionaire sitting next to a Kahler housekeepers at the counter. Mac's has always been everyone."
The closing will leave another hole in the Rochester's downtown, but he doesn't believe it will remain empty for long.
"There will be another chapter for this space. People are already interested. Two large entities from the Twin Cities have already put in offers, said Psomas, who owns the main level and basement of the building.
He says it was a tough call to pull the plug on a restaurant that has been in his family since 1959, but changes in restaurant trends and in Rochester's downtown brought Mac's to a crossroads.
"It came down to a decision of where Mac's goes now? Do we do a $1 million renovation or do we close?" he said. "In the end, we decided to close. It's run its course. We're the old mother hen."
Psomas said customers have migrated to more specialized restaurants, particularly cookie-cutter franchises, in recent years. He said people aren't interested in "fresh produce or homemade soups anymore."
And then there's how the morning crowd has dwindled over the years.
"America has forgotten about breakfast," he said. "People just want to grab a muffin made weeks ago or maybe a waffle at their hotel."
The business has also seen taking some hits in the recent transformation of downtown Rochester with the closings of businesses like the popular Barnes & Noble bookshop and Michael's restaurant. The expansion of the Mayo Civic Center, which required many months of construction also hurt Mac's, when the stream of convention became a trickle, he added.
"Downtown is a ghost town on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights," Psomas said.
While the day-to-day business is different today, Mac's still has a national and, possibly international, reputation due to being a regular stop for many Mayo Clinic patients.
When then-Vice President Joe Biden made a campaign stop in Rochester in 2012, he told Psomas that, "This is one of the most important places for us to stop."
Biden walked into the restaurant and immediately recognized a customer as a regular squash competitor in Washington, D.C., which reinforced Mac's reputation as the place where everyone eats when in Rochester.
In the late 1980s, a reporter looked skeptical, when he was told the restaurant was world famous. Psomas told him to talk to some customers. In a few minutes, the reporter was convinced.
"He told me, 'That guy over there was looking at his Mayo (Clinic) appointment papers in Central Park (in New York.) A man sitting on a bench told that if he was going to Mayo Clinic, he had to eat at Mac's," Psomas recalled.
The 23 employees who will clock out for a final time on that last Friday are the latest in a long string of workers over the past decades.
John Mazis, now a professor of European history at Hamline University, spent many hours as a part-time employee cooking at Mac's from 1983 to 1990. He was sad the place worked so long and enjoyed so many Downtowner sandwiches would soon close.
"On one hand, Mac's was nothing out of the ordinary with just good food and kind of kitschy decorations," he said. "But it was more than that. It was the people who ran it, like Jimmy (Psomas) and the other old-timers. They made it a special place."
The young student was able to meet a famous figure from Rochester's past, while working late shifts on winter. An older man, obviously visiting Mayo Clinic, came in several nights in a row. Eventually, Mazis worked up the nerve to talk to him.
"I said, 'Do you know that you look a lot like Judge (Harry) Blackmun? He said that he did. I said, 'You are him, right?' and he nodded," remembered Mazis of meeting the famous Supreme Court judge who lived in Rochester from 1950 to 1970.
While the end is drawing near, Psomas says he wants people to think of their favorite memories of Mac's.
"People should celebrate Mac's. That what I plan to do in these last days. Enjoy the memories and celebrate a special place," he said.