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Melvin's on the Lake sold

Melvin's on the Lake owners Dave and Mary Baker have sold their popular dining and entertainment establishment to Zorbaz Inc. The Bakers will operate Melvin's through the summer. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Melvin's on the Lake, a popular dining and entertainment landmark in Spicer, has been sold to Zorbaz Inc.

Owners Dave and Mary Baker will operate Melvin's for one final summer this year before turning it over to Zorbaz on Oct. 1.

The Bakers made the ann-ouncement Monday.

"This will be our ninth season when we finish this summer," Dave Baker said.

"It's been a privilege and an honor to run such an important entity."

Zorbaz owns and operates nine restaurants in northern Minnesota. Its flagship restaurant and bar is in Detroit Lakes, where the chain was founded in 1969.

The Bakers have operated Melvin's since 2003.

The lakefront restaurant, the only one on Green Lake, is a popular destination for meals, entertainment and outdoor special events, especially during the summer.

The Bakers weren't actively looking to sell the place but decided late last year to reduce some of their commitments, Baker said, calling it "a quality of life issue."

The sale of Melvin's will allow them to focus on their other properties, he said. The Bakers also own The Oaks at Eagle Creek, Super 8 and the Tiffany Square building in Willmar, plus a Green Lake pontoon and houseboat dinner cruise enterprise.

During the busy season, "Melvin's alone is more than a full-time job," Baker said.

Zorbaz had previously expressed an interest in buying Melvin's on the Lake, and Baker emailed the company to ask if it was still willing to consider a deal.

The purchase agreement "all kind of came together," he said. "They gave us very close to our asking price. ... I think everybody was in the right frame of mind."

Zorbaz plans to open the newly acquired Spicer location early in 2012. The chain is known for its casual lakeside atmosphere and its menu of Mexican food and pizza. It employs more than 600 people at its nine locations, from Alexandria and Detroit Lakes to Perham, McGregor and Park Rapids.

"I think it's going to be a good thing for Spicer," Baker said.

Melvin's has struggled financially at times. High property taxes, maintenance costs and competition almost led to its demise five years ago. To cut costs, the Bakers took several measures, including reducing winter hours at Melvin's and instituting more operating efficiencies. Melvin's is now turning a profit, Baker said. "I think we feel good that we've left it in good shape."

Saying goodbye to the restaurant -- and especially the employees -- will be hard, he said. "We've hired so many employees over the years. They've become our second family."

In the meantime, Melvin's is looking forward to a busy summer season. "We have probably one of our best summer concert series lined up," Baker said. "We want to go out on a good note."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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