Merle's restaurant closes on Main Street

Down-home hangout leaves legacy of change in downtown

Posted 8/18/18

When David Svenson and Mark Teets locked the doors at Merle's restaurant for the last time on Aug. 15, they consigned to memory a place that helped reshape Main Street — and meant the world to its …

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Merle's restaurant closes on Main Street

Down-home hangout leaves legacy of change in downtown

Posted

When David Svenson and Mark Teets locked the doors at Merle's restaurant for the last time on Aug. 15, they consigned to memory a place that helped reshape Main Street — and meant the world to its die-hard regulars.

By year's end, the restaurant at 2609 West Main St. is slated to become the second location of Adelitas, a popular Mexican restaurant on South Broadway in Denver, whose owners have offered a job to nearly the entire staff of Merle's.

But for many in the crowd that jammed the restaurant on its last night, calling toasts and lining up to hug owners Svenson and Teets, the closing of Merle's after 10 years meant the loss of more than just the best pulled-pork sandwich in town.

“It was our 'Cheers,'” said Jason Bicknell, seated at the bar with his mom, Sheila Montgomery. “You know, 'where everybody knows your name.'”

Bicknell said his late father Mike adored Merle's, and on closing night he and his mom sipped Hendrick's Gin and tonic — dad's favorite cocktail.

The family held a big gathering at Merle's not long after Mike was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, Bicknell said, with Teets covering the entire bill for upward of 20 people.

Tears came to Montgomery's eyes as she recalled the time Mike sent her on a scavenger hunt through Merle's, hitting up wait staff for clues that eventually led her back outside to a mint 1951 Chevy — her dream car.

“At his memorial service, we laid a Merle's hat on his ashes,” Montgomery said.

For Bryce Bonner, a 17-year-old host at the front of the house, taking a brief break from seating the throngs packing the house on closing night, Merle's has been a great education and great fun.

“It's like a tight-knit family,” Bonner said. “I learned the importance of showing up on time, supporting your team, being patient and flexible — a lot, now that I think about it.”

For Tim and Monica Fuglei, watching the sun set from the rooftop patio with their three kids and friend Jamey Trotter, Merle's was the go-to spot for just about every occasion.

“After-work beers,” said Monica, an English professor at Arapahoe Community College. “Birthdays. Where we took out-of-town guests. Someplace we knew the kids would be happy with.”

“And the best veggie burger on Main Street,” chimed in daughter Lillian, a student at Heritage High School, who said Merle's was also the traditional after-show spot for casts in plays at the Town Hall Arts Center.

Merle's was a godsend when it opened in 2008, Monica said, because Main Street was otherwise so dead back then.

“We were here opening weekend,” Monica said.

Indeed, before ViewHouse, before the Tavern, before Smokin' Fins, there was Merle's, on a Main Street still struggling to find its purpose decades after the farm economy left it behind and changing consumer trends toward big box retail took what was left.

“It had been a ghost town down here for 40 years,” said co-owner Svenson. He and Teets bought the old Merle's gas station and mechanic shop from Doyle and Sharon Bell, who had owned it for decades.

Svenson said he and Teets envisioned a restaurant that could help wake up the sleepy thoroughfare, but city code would've required upward of 70 parking spots. Svenson packed the audience of a planning commission meeting and got a variance that exempted him from the requirement, and it was off to the races.

“The only pushback I got was from a group of old-timers who didn't want to see anything change down here,” Svenson said. “But lo and behold, a few weeks after I opened, there they were at a table. They told me I had been right all along.”

Ten years on, Svenson and Teets are ready to move onto the next chapter in life.

“Life is constantly changing,” Svenson said. “I live in southwest Colorado now, and I've finally found peace. The real estate market being what it is, we decided it was a good time to hand it off.”

Adelitas is a first-class operation, Svenson said, and he rests assured Littleton will love it too.

Teets, a man of fewer words than Svenson, said what Merle's meant to him was who walked through the door.

“A restaurant is just a building,” Teets said. “It's the people, and the friendships, that make it.”

Both Svenson and Teets expressed their love and gratitude to Littleton and their patrons. 

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