Joe Rickenbach has this Saturday and Sunday off work, and he’s not sure what he’ll do with his free time.
He hasn’t planned anything for the following weekend, either. Or any that come after that.
“Having weekends off, I’ve never really thought about it,” he said. “Maybe rest and relaxation.”
Rickenbach and his wife, Denise, owned Minnesota’s last remaining Embers restaurant on Central Avenue in Fridley for nearly 23 years. But on Sunday, the couple served their final stacks of mouthwatering pancakes, signature Emberger Royal burgers and hot fudge milkshakes.
Rickenbach closed the eatery and sold the property to a developer who plans to tear down the signature square building and put up a bank.
“That is hard for the customers to hear,” Rickenbach said. “They loved the building.”
Customers also loved the sense of community that formed over decades of breakfasts, dinners and late-night fare. On its final day, many who had eaten there as children and later brought in their children turned out for a joyful, yet tearful, reunion. Rickenbach autographed menus for customers who waited up to three hours for a table. He posed for photographs, greeted former employees and was taken aback when former broadcaster Nancy Nelson, the star of the first Embers TV commercial in 1971, came in for one last meal. Adam Kristal, whose father was an Embers co-founder, also swung by.
“People were crying in the booths, and on the phone,” Rickenbach said. “The whole city showed up to remember the Embers. It was kind of sad, very emotional for a lot of people. It was amazing.”
Rickenbach’s mother worked at the metro’s first Embers, which opened at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis in 1956. His father, Ricky, started two years later as a janitor and worked for the restaurant chain for 30 years, rising to vice president. In 1978, when Joe was 15, his father helped him get a job as a busboy at the Northtown Embers. He later became a manager.
Joe met Denise while working at the Embers, and when the restaurant chain franchised in 1998 the couple bought the Fridley location. They named it “Ricky’s Embers” in honor of Joe’s dad. All five of the Rickenbachs’ children have worked at the restaurant over the years, including Sam, who started at age 15 and is now 27.
The restaurant’s slogan was “Remember the Embers.” To keep its memory alive, Rickenbach is donating a table and booth to be displayed at the Fridley Historical Society.
“A longtime Fridley restaurant institution and family owned business, it will be greatly missed,” the society said in a Facebook post.
Rickenbach didn’t say what would happen to the restaurant’s other artifacts, but one thing is certain: “I am not giving out the pancake recipe.”
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768
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