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'Not the storybook ending we had in mind,' Manna Cafe owners write in goodbye letter
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'Not the storybook ending we had in mind,' Manna Cafe owners write in goodbye letter

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Manna exterior

Manna Cafe and Bakery opened in 2005 on North Sherman Avenue, serving breakfast and lunch. 

Manna Cafe & Bakery is closing after 15 years, and in a letter to customers, the owners write: “Please understand — this is the hardest moment of our lives. It is the most difficult thing we have ever done, or imagined we would do.”

The North Side cafe’s last day will be June 28, Barb and Mike Pratzel wrote on the cafe’s website.

The Pratzels closed for about a week at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and then began offering takeout.

On May 26, the day local restaurants were allowed to open at a reduced capacity, Mike Pratzel said he and Barb were meeting with their managers the next day to discuss how to proceed. “I don’t think anybody around here is in a hurry to open it up,” he said then. “It’s a lot of effort to change things up for a limited amount of space.”

Manna, 611 N. Sherman Ave., is a community hub known for its brunch food, rich coffee, muffins, sticky buns, rugelach and other baked goods.

In an emotional letter to customers Thursday, the Pratzels said news of the closure was hard on its staff, “and we are devastated by the challenges they will face, especially during the pandemic.”

They described the teamwork and camaraderie they built, and the love and support they enjoyed from customers. They said they’re viewing their last days in business as “a Celebration of Life.”

The Pratzels explained that when they went to New York to visit their son a week before COVID-19 hit, Manna was thriving. But, one week later, when they returned early, the cafe had closed “by necessity.”

“We, the staff, and the country were baffled and confused by the sudden and overwhelming changes, and it took a minute to grasp it all (if we even have),” they wrote.

The couple detail how they tried to keep the business going, but, ultimately realized the effects of the virus won’t soon go away, and “have rippled through our community in ways that’ll affect people’s lives permanently.”

Before Manna, the Pratzels ran the Collins House, an Arts and Crafts-style bed and breakfast and catering business on Gorham Street next to James Madison Park.

The Pratzels ask that customers wear masks when entering the cafe during its remaining days of take-out and curbside pick-up.

“This is not the storybook ending we had in mind,” they wrote.

In May, Mike Pratzel said by just offering takeout they were making about a quarter of what they normally would. He said if they hadn’t gotten some federal Paycheck Protection Program money, “we’d be done,” adding that it was about to run out.

The couple said in their letter to customers that they felt it was too early to open for sit-down service, despite being able to open at 25% capacity in accordance with the city-county’s phased reopening plan.

“Manna is a hustly-bustly sort of place,” they wrote, noting that not only is it unclear how long restaurants will need to operate at a reduced capacity, but “how much longer still until customers are ready to return to a crowded restaurant scene.”

In a text message, Mike Pratzel called closing “a very hard decision. I almost couldn’t even say it out loud to staff.”

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