Meridian Star

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May 2, 2010

Weidmann’s restaurant closes unexpectedly

MERIDIAN —     After 140 years of feeding hungry Meridianites, Weidmann's restaurant has closed its doors.

    The downtown eatery once famous for its black bottom pie was first built around 1870, undergoing a massive renovation in the early 2000s. The restaurant closed its doors last week.

    Weidmann's was originally built by Felix Weidmann, and was owned by the Weidmann family for many generations, until it was sold to a group of investors who undertook the renovation.

    For most of the 2000s, the restaurant was run by Chef Willie McGehee, who anonymous sources say has already moved away from Meridian, surprising the restaurant investors with his decision to leave Weidmann's.

    Before the renovation, the restaurant was known for its good food and interesting character, with ceramic jars of peanut butter on each table, photos of people who had passed through covering the walls, and a "treasure chest" of treats for its younger customers. The mural on the restaurant's south wall and its distinct facade made the building a downtown landmark for several generations.

    Because the facade looked like that of a traditional German building, Weidmann's was often mistaken as a German restaurant, but the Weidmann family actually originated in Switzerland, sources said.

    Along with the black bottom pie, the recipe for which has been published in a local cookbook "Prime Meridian" in recent years, Weidmann's was known for its seafood, particularly its crab belvedere, and its blue plate lunches.

    Though it had an entirely different menu, the "new" post-renovation Weidmann's was also known for its seafood. Its accompanying bar, the Monkey Bar, was a popular night spot. Though the "new" Weidmann's lacked the quaint character of the "old" Weidmann's, it was sleeker, more modern, and had a cleaner appearance. The renovated restaurant kept the name Weidmann's, but did not resemble its original counterpart in atmosphere or cuisine.

    A Weidmann's investor who wished not to be named confirmed that the restaurant is closed, saying it did not open its doors again after closing for the night on April 17. The investor said it is not known why the restaurant closed and that the closure was not expected.

    John McClure, executive director of the Alliance for Downtown Meridian, said he also did not know exactly why the restaurant closed, but said the closure doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing for downtown or for the restaurant's investors.

    "When you're given lemons you have to make lemonade," said McClure. "Ultimately, this is an opportunity for Weidmann's to reinvent itself to meet the market demands and the wishes of the public."

    McClure said he expects the restaurant to eventually reopen under new management, and that the economic viability of downtown as a location for restaurants continues to improve.

    McClure said there are now more people living downtown than there were several years ago, and more downtown residences are expected.

    He also said the planned moved of the MSU-Meridian division of business into the Kress building will provide a boon for downtown businesses, especially because the students will largely be older students with jobs — and therefore more disposable income than the average traditional student — and most will be attending classes at night.

    Though the "new" Weidmann's has shut its doors and the "old" Weidmann's is long gone, McClure said that doesn't mean Weidmann's restaurant is dead.

    "There's no reason that we can't recapture these things that made Weidmann's special," he said, "and while it's reinvented, build on that tradition while meeting the 21st century market."

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