Last summer’s construction on 8th Street South in Moorhead put area businesses in unfamiliar territory by effectively wiping out their customer traffic. For Jim Mercil, then-owner of the Speak Easy Restaurant and Lounge, making up for the lost revenue proved to be a herculean task. On November 30 of last year, Mercil put the restaurant up for sale. Buying it was a no-brainer for Larry Hauger. Along with his business partner, Hauger took ownership of the restaurant and on December 1, it was business as usual.
Some people in the area refer to the restaurant as the “new” Speak Easy, but much of it remains the same. Walk through the doors and you will see the same Auburn 4-door sedan convertible in the northeast corner. The same gangster era portraits line the walls. Although there have been a few upgrades, the décor has been kept intact. “This place is really cool the way it is. It has its own personality and is a unique type of space,” Hauger explained. “The atmosphere and ambiance is something you wouldn’t want to change.”
Hauger has a long history with the restaurant. He had his first date with his wife in 1992 at the Speak Easy. They celebrated their grooms’ dinner there as well. There must have been something in the air because the couple is still married and have three children, all of which attended school in Moorhead. It is the history of the restaurant that makes it so special for Hauger, and it is what fuels his desire to retain the Speak Easy’s iconic status.
“Same, only better,” is the sentiment that has been attached to the restaurant’s new ownership. Long time chef Kent Larson still works for the Speak Easy, which has ensured that its signature dishes will still spoil your palette for all other food. Much of the other staff have remained as well, which gave the ownership transition a continuity that is responsible for a customer rebirth of sorts. Hit up the restaurant during the dinner rush and you would think time has stood still for the restaurant. In a way, it has.
The Speak Easy’s menu has something for everyone. Although it is an Italian restaurant, the menu includes seafood and American entrees as well. Start a visit with some of its signature appetizers like Italian nachos or fried eggplant chips, however, and you may not make it any further. For those that do, the Italian dishes include everything from bruschetta, tortellini carbonara, and lasagna (done three different ways).
On the seafood menu are such mouthwatering dishes as butterflied shrimp and deep fried walleye. Not to be outdone, the American menu features specialties like stuffed pork chops, ribeye steak, and Bonnie & Clyde’s prime rib (served Thursday through Saturday). The Speak Easy also features a full gluten-free menu, happy hour from 4:00 – 6:00 pm, and daily drink specials. As if that wasn’t enough, kids eat free on Sundays (ages 9 and under) and breakfast is served from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm on Sundays. Truly something for everyone.
Hauger would like to let everyone know that yes, the Speak Easy is open, and even more importantly, it is the same great restaurant it always was. There have been some upgrades, including bigger televisions, but a return customer will quickly notice that the atmosphere that has given the restaurant its identity is largely intact. “We always knew it was a great place,” Hauger said. “We are just trying to give it some love and make it even better.”
The Speak Easy is located at 1001 30th Avenue South in Moorhead. More information can be obtained at Speak Easy Restaurant.