All are welcome to join the Wadena Elks for the last day at their current location, Friday, June 4, as they move out and El Mariachi moves in.

The Elks have been a part of charity in the Wadena community since they began some 54 years ago, and they don't plan on stopping now. The current lodge in Wadena has served its members and the public since it opened in 1975 at its location on north Jefferson Street.

The property was for sale for nearly two years but is set to change hands the week of June 7 with owners of the popular Mexican restaurant, which is now located on west Hwy 10.

The Elks put their current property for sale as overhead costs were mounting for the large site. With new business development booming in recent years in Wadena and use of the Elks Lodge as an event space dwindling, now seemed like a good time to move the site into new hands. The group plans to meet in the backroom of the Wadena VFW up until they find a location that may better suit their needs, according to the Lodge’s Exalted Ruler Deb Marquette.

This move is a bittersweet one for those long standing Elks members including current chairman Dan Sartell.

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“I’ve been involved since 1975,” Sartell said. He was one of the first to be initiated in the new space. “For me it's kind of that "Cheers" bar. It’s just a really fun place to go.”

But Sartell explains that the venue just doesn’t match the desire of most couples looking for a wedding venue. While the group used to host three to four weddings a month, year round, that amount has swiftly dropped. COVID-19 made matters even worse.

“It really put the final nail in the coffin,” Sartell said.

Marquette is hoping for good things to happen this year at their new location. While the move is important for the future of the the Order, it means the community is out another venue for weddings and other events. Sartell said community leaders need to really focus on that matter to find an alternative event center in the community or risk people going elsewhere. With seating for nearly 300, the Elks Lodge was the biggest option for those wishing to have alcohol on site without special permitting.

RELATED: City uncorks conversations around alcohol at Maslowski Wellness Center

Talks are now being had at the City of Wadena about developing a policy to use the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center as an event space, with alcohol allowed.

Who are the Elks?

This wasn’t the first site for the Elks. They previously met in the old opera house above the current 1776 Clothing Company and Ameriprise Financial building at the corner of Jefferson and Aldrich.

The Wadena Elks is a charitable organization comprised of 210-plus local members. It once had over 350 members. Since its beginning, the Wadena Lodge has given over $3 million back to the communities it serves. The lodge sponsors many fundraisers each year and also gives back through the efforts of charitable gambling.

The Elks take the lead on the local Hoop Shoot; a Flag Day ceremony; drug awareness and they regularly give scholarships to area graduates. They send youth to the Elks State Youth Camp in Brainerd; every year give presents to youth for Christmas and candy for Halloween. They've served veterans through their giving and hosting them at their location.

The Elks organization was founded in New York City on Feb. 16, 1868 under the name "Jolly Corks" by 15 actors, entertainers and others associated with the theater. In ensuing years, membership expanded to other professions. There are now around 2,000 groups across the country.

If you are interested in finding out more or becoming a member, you can still stop by the Elks Lodge for an application or check out their meetings which will continue to be the second and fourth Thursday of each month.

El Mariachi Authentic Mexican Restaurant is still operating out of its location on west Hwy 10 in Wadena but plans to move to the Elks Lodge building later this summer.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
El Mariachi Authentic Mexican Restaurant is still operating out of its location on west Hwy 10 in Wadena but plans to move to the Elks Lodge building later this summer. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

El Mariachi hopes to open at new location mid-July

El Mariachi owner Yeri Gonzalez said they are excited to get into the Elks Lodge where they’ll enjoy a more spacious building. She expects work to begin there in June and a hopeful opening at the new site in mid-July.

They currently rent their building on Hwy 10, so purchasing the Elks building gives them added freedom to “make it our own,” Gonzalez said.

El Mariachi has been in business in Wadena since the summer of 2018.

Gonzalez said business has been going well since things have reopened more in the state. More people are comfortable about getting out for a meal. She hopes that even more people will notice what they have going on in their new location. Expect the same great food with a new view.