NEW BUFFALO, Mich. – It's been a staple in downtown New Buffalo for 30 years. Now Casey's Bar and Grill located at 136 N. Whittacker Street in downtown New Buffalo is closed.
The doors of Casey'sl have been locked since January 1.
The owners of the building, NB Developers, filed an eviction notice on January 18 against their tenant, Casey owner John Bertuca, a southwest Michigan businessman.
According to court documents filed in Berrien County, the landlords claim Bertuca owes more than $86,000 in back rent and unpaid utility bills.
During the middle of the day, around lunch hour, lights are off and paper covers most of the windows of the restaurant.
A sign on the door encourages people to go to another restaurant, Skips Other Place, to eat, indicating the sign was approved by the building owners.
People who live in the town are shocked.
"We didn't know what was going on. We were stunned," says Joe Matis, who owns a second home a few blocks from Casey's. "We've eaten there several times. It's a great place."
Questions about the sudden shutdown of the bar have been circulating on Casey's Bar & Grill Facebook page.
One employee questioned where to get their paychecks.
The bar employed around 30 people.
Casey's manager Tom Jennings posted a statement saying, "I am personally devastated and I want to let all our friends know what happened."
On Monday, WSBT contacted Jennings by phone. He said he couldn't comment because of a legal case.
Court documents indicate the plaintiffs in the case, NB Developers out of Chicago, sent a notice to Bertuca asking him to vacate the building by December 30. Then, a petition was filed on December 18, 2012 prohibiting Bertuca from "harming, destroying, or taking" any of the fixtures or other items on the property. On January 18, 2013, an official eviction notice was filed.
Jennings, who also owns Czar's 505 Night Club and The Pumphouse Grille in downtown St. Joseph, is not named in any of the court documents.
The landlords claim since January of 2010, Bertuca hasn't paid his full rent, owing the more than $80,000 and an additional $6,000 in unpaid utility bills.
"It's a big shocker, been here a long time," said Tom Braden, a lifelong New Buffalo resident.
Casey's closure is another blow to the struggling restaurant industry in New Buffalo, which relies heavily on tourists.
74% of the city's tax base is out of state.
'The Stray Dog,' located across the street from Casey's, burned down last July and is being rebuilt.
Also located on Whittaker Street, a 'For Sale' sign is posted outside 'Hannah's and Harry's.' That restaurant closed in December.
"It's disappointing," admits New Buffalo City Manager Rusty Geisler.
Geisler says the town can't afford another closure.
"Winter time is a hard time for all our business, and if there's not the attraction of food service, that does take away from our traffic."
WSBT spoke with attorney Brian McMahon, representing Bertuca. He would not comment on the case but said the full story will come out during the court proceedings.
There is an eviction hearing scheduled in Berrien County this Friday.
In the meantime, people who enjoyed Casey's are just hoping the dispute is resolved and these doors will be reopen for business soon.
Geisler says the owners of the building are attempting to obtain a liquor license so that they can re-open the business soon.
No word if the Casey's name will stay the same.