Photograph by Drew Podo
A lot has changed in Duluth since Rexall Grill opened in 1969. In nearly five decades, the sleepy, rural town of 2,000 people grew into a busy suburb. Strip malls and neighborhoods replaced historic buildings and farms, and the town now boasts a population of 30,000 people. Still, the small diner, which started as a soda fountain in the adjoining pharmacy, remains virtually unchanged. Over the years they’ve added a few tables, but the menu has stayed the same.
The restaurant serves diner classics, like eggs and biscuits at breakfast and fried chicken at lunch, but the most popular item is the meatloaf. “Ever since I can remember, we’ve had it on the menu every single day,” says manager Danny Sexton. “It was probably my grandmother’s recipe.” Even though he’s only worked at Rexall for 17 years, he grew up in the diner. “The restaurant was passed down in my family. My aunt owned it, then she sold it to mother, then she sold it to my other aunt.”
The meatloaf, made from ground chuck and onions, is topped with a secret, sweet and tangy ketchup-based sauce. “We just make it the way we made it when we started in 1969,” Sexton says. He added that almost half of the daily lunch orders are meatloaf, and he goes through 160 pounds of ground chuck every week. Sexton attributes the restaurant’s popularity to its unchanging menu, and the loyal customer base. “A lot of the regular customers still come in here. They came in when I was a little kid catching the school bus out front,” he says, adding that the diner remains a popular gathering spot for the community. “If you want to know anything about what’s going on in Duluth, you come in here.”