HIGHLAND | Blue Top Drive-in owner Kent Johnsen's spirit is beaten down, and his rueful voice is punctuated by either short repeated phrases or long pauses because he can't find the words.
The proud grandson of a Denmark immigrant poignantly talks about his love for his mother, Wendy, his father's dying wish, and the sale of the drive-in that was part of their family for decades.
"She's heartbroken about (selling) it and starts crying whenever we talk about it," Johnsen said. "She doesn't know what she's going to do. It hurts too much to think about it.
"To run a family business you need a family to help out, and if you don't, it's so difficult. It's just my mom and me. My brothers and sisters live far away and have their own lives.
"I don't want my mom to lose this place and her home, too. ... My dad asked me to promise to take care of my mom. I had to make this decision."
Blue Top, which was built in 1936, is up for sale after the business faced various hurdles throughout the years.
It never recovered from various road construction projects that lasted about five years, Johnsen said. The road widening of U.S. 41, the disruption caused by the new Iron Bridge, and even highway projects that kept out-of-state customers away took their toll.
A seasonal-type business, the restaurant wasn't able to garner any property tax relief. State and local officials offered only words.
"They said to stay open because 'people will always come to your place,'" Johnsen said.
"Well, no one came and neither did they because they didn't want to get their cars all dirty and dented up from the rocks. They said we'd have access -- and the access was mud, dirt and gravel."
Minimum wages already hurt low profit margins, as did gas stations that sell 50-cent hot dogs.
"It's hard on the little guy," he said. "The malls come in, and big corporation restaurants come in. People tend to eat where they shop."
Johnsen said the decision was difficult, especially because the restaurant was all he knew.
"I've worked here since I was 9. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm 48. I have no clue," he said.
"We tried, we tried, we tried. But there are so many restaurants in the area, and my mom realizes without investing in a drive-up window, increased seating capacity or staying open 24 hours -- my mom at her age just didn't want to do that."
Even the weather seems cruel to him.
"We've been keeping records since the '40s. In the last six years, there's been more wind, cloudy days and precipitation. All those things hurt outside business."
Blue Top's appeal earned it an appearance in a Rolling Stone calendar, but interested parties so far only are interested in the property and not the building or business. It used to employ 40 young workers and now just has five or six.
"I lose sleep every night. Every night. For years," he said. "I knew this day was coming. I knew it. Every night."