John Sheehan, one of the owners of Doolittles Woodfire Grill, said in his 30-plus years in the restaurant business, he has never seen a response to a restaurant closing like he did Tuesday in Alexandria.

The company announced to its employees that the restaurant would be closing and the news spread like wildfire, he said, noting that between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., the restaurant fielded more than 1,400 phone calls.

“This is a great community and the people are supportive,” said Sheehan in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “We have been super blessed over the last 19 years in Alexandria with not only great employees, but customers, as well. We are sad.”

Sheehan confirmed that the restaurant will now be closing for sure this Saturday. It was up in the air for awhile, but he said as a team, it was decided that the last day will be June 27.

“We want to give a proper goodbye to the community and to our employees,” he said. “We are going to do our best and provide the best final experience we can this week. And we cannot thank our employees and the public enough for their support.”

Although he couldn’t speak to the details, Sheehan said Doolittles is under lease until the end of the year and that the landlord of the property and building has a prospective tenant. Nothing is finalized at this point, but Sheehan said there is a strong possibility another business, which has a strong commitment to quality food and beverage, may be coming.

Why close?

The ultimate decision to close Doolittles in Alexandria came down to maintaining financial stability. The impact of being shut down due to COVID-19 played a major role in the decision, said Sheehan.

A newsletter sent out to customers stated, “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is no longer viable for this location to remain open for business; we are permanently closing the restaurant at the end of the week.”

Sheehan said prior to the coronavirus pandemic shut downs, the plan was to evaluate how the summer was going to go because business had been slow due to some harsh winters and competition in the industry. He said a combination of more restaurants and less employees, along with Alexandria being a tourist destination, doesn’t always work well.

“We were looking forward to having a great summer and then ended up with COVID-19,” Sheehan said. “It created a perfect storm.”

Sheehan said the decision to close the Alexandria location was difficult, but ultimately had to be made. He hopes that those who are fans of Doolittles will visit their locations in Fargo, Golden Valley and Eagan. Gift certificates will be honored at all the locations.

Terrible loss for everyone

Billy Prendergast received word Monday, June 22, that Doolittles Woodfire Grill in Alexandria was closing. Prendergast has worked at the restaurant for the past 11 years and was the current general manager.

“It’s the only job I’ve had since moving to Alexandria,” he said.

When the restaurant closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Prendergast knew it was a possibility that it may stay closed permanently. However, once the governor gave the go-head for restaurants to be open again – or at least partially open – Doolittles opened back up, but it won’t be for very long.

“It’s a terrible loss for all of us,” said Prendergast. “Some employees have been here since day one. I feel tremendously sorry for my employees.”

Long-time employees are pretty common for Doolittles, he said, noting that at least two have been there since it opened, while a handful have been there 15 or more years and many have been there at least 10 years.

“I am very proud of our staff,” he said. “This is sad for them and for the community.”

Doolittles first opened in Alexandria in 2000 as Doolittles Air Cafe. It changed its name to Doolittles Woodfire Grill after a fire burned through part of the building.