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Brooten dinner theater to close June 21

BROOTEN -- It was an innovative idea. Take an old, closed movie theater in a sleepy town and give it a jazzy New Orleans pulse. Bring in some gourmet food and some quality entertainment. Make tiny Brooten a destination, not just a dot on a map.

In the end, though, it was John O's Dinner Theatre's isolation and a faltering economy that led to the announcement Friday that it would be closing its doors on June 21.

"If it was in Spicer or Willmar, it probably would have been full every night," said marketing manager Thomas Rosengren. "People just weren't willing to drive the 30 miles to get here."

John O's was the brainchild of John Bohmer and Ingrid Fauske. The two set out to renovate the former Avalon movie theater in 2005 -- Bohmer providing the capital and Fauske the labor. The result was the opening in October 2006 of a dinner theater with a décor, inspired by the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Regular acts included jazz performers, stand-up comics and a capella groups, in addition to theater productions.

Rosengren said that while the restaurant and lounge could occasionally attract large groups of people, the more typical half-full dinner shows and sparsely crowded lounge simply didn't provide a sustainable business model.

Still, he said, employees were saddened by the announcement.

"We were all shocked to hear this," he said.

The dinner theater plans to go out with a bang with showings of the production "The Arranged Marriage" on June 19 and 20, with dinner beginning at 5 p.m. and the show at 7:30 p.m., and on June 21, with dinner starting at 2:30 p.m. and the show at 4:20 p.m. Regular dinner hours will also be held from Tuesday through Saturday until the closing.