SARANAC LAKE - Facing more than half-a-million dollars in debt, a popular local restaurant that's been a mainstay in the business community for more than 30 years has closed and filed for bankruptcy.
Casa Del Sol, located on Lake Flower Avenue next to the Best Western Mountain Lake Inn, closed its doors on Sunday.
The Mexican restaurant will be "closed until further notice," owner Bryan Morgan said in a message on Casa's answering machine and in a post on the restaurant's Facebook page.
Bryan Morgan, owner of Casa Del Sol restaurant, poses by its bar in November 2008 shortly after purchasing the Mexican eatery, which closed its doors Sunday after declaring bankruptcy.
(Enterprise file photo — Emily Hunkler)
"We would like to thank all of our wonderful, faithful customers over the years," Morgan wrote on Facebook. "We will miss you. We hope to be back in the near future."
Morgan, who bought the restaurant in 2008 from Harry and Diane Tucker, told the Enterprise Thursday that he's been "bleeding out" money for the past two years. Casa Del Sol's bankruptcy filing says the business has $650,802.13 in total liabilities.
"I overpaid for the restaurant," Morgan said. "What I paid, before the recession, was what the going market was at. If you look at it now, I completely overpaid for it. My debt is so high, it's impossible to run it."
Business also took a nosedive this year, Morgan said. He said the restaurant was on pace to be 100 percent off in terms of business from his first year of ownership. On Sunday, the last day Casa was open, Morgan said he had only six customers, which he said was the slowest night in Casa's history.
"It's the economy," Morgan said. "Even in the summertime, you had less visitors up here. Last winter, when we didn't have the snow, that also had an impact. The economy up here is not good. We've had a great staff and phenomenal service here. It's not that. I just can't afford to operate it anymore. I'm losing money."
The closure of the restaurant means its roughly eight employees are out of work, although Morgan said he's been pressing his connections with other people in the restaurant business locally to try and get them jobs.
Morgan had initially filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, which would have allowed him to keep running the restaurant while he reorganizes. He realized quickly, however, that that wouldn't be possible given the amount of debt he was facing.
"Today, I called my attorneys up and we're going to drop it to a (Chapter) seven," Morgan said. "I'm going to wipe my hands completely free of Casa Del Sol."
The restaurant's current and former patrons reacted with disappointment to the news of its closing on the Casa Del Sol Facebook page.
"Why Brian?" posted Jimmy Mitchell. "Casa Del Sol is one of the best restaurants in Saranac Lake."
"I am so sorry to hear this, Brian," wrote Debbie Lichtenwalter. "We are really going to miss going there. We will miss you and your crew."
Morgan said he isn't done for good. He said he has another business venture in the works, though he couldn't say what that is.
"I'm down but I'm not out," he said. "I'm going to start over and start fresh."
Morgan grew up in the restaurant business. His father, the late Forrest "Dew Drop" Morgan, owned the Dew Drop Inn when he was growing up, and his younger brother Dermott ran Morgan's 11, a wood-fired pizza restaurant across the river from the former Dew Drop Inn, until the business closed several years ago.
Before returning to Saranac Lake and buying Casa Del Sol, Morgan lived in Park City, Utah, for 16 years, first working in the ski industry and eventually owning and operating a restaurant, Prime Steakhouse and Piano Bar.
"Every restaurant I've been involved in has turned to gold but this one didn't," Morgan said. "It started out like it was going to but it didn't. My restaurant out west is killing it. They're doing big numbers and I gave up a big paycheck every week to come back to my hometown, and it just didn't work out."
Casa Del Sol first opened its doors in July of 1978.