HARTLEY—A downtown Hartley institution of food and drinks has reopened its doors after being dormant for almost two years.

Stitch and Ashley’s Stoplight Lounge, located at 10 First St. SE, welcomed patrons back on Dec. 20.

“It was a lot of work, that’s for sure,” said Hartley native Ryan “Stitch” Brehmer, who co-owns the bar and restaurant with his partner, Ashley Reid.

The Stoplight previously was owned by Rachel Crist, who closed the business in late February 2020 to pursue a career in nursing.

The bar’s history dates back to 1972, when Crist’s father, Roger, opened it with his brother, John. The establishment was a family-run business for years, and Crist eventually took ownership in the early 2000s.

Brehmer, 40, runs his own construction company in town, Brehmer Renovations. However, he recalled working in the Stoplight off and on through the years while healing from previous shoulder surgeries. The Stoplight also was an eatery he frequented as a child.

“I remember coming up here with my grandpa when I was a kid, sitting here eating Philly cheesesteaks and stuff,” Brehmer said. “I love to cook. I always just kind of wanted to do this. I was going to go to culinary school out of high school, and I just never did it.”

Reid, 35, originally hails from Phoenix but moved to the O’Brien County community when she was a teenager. She also used to work at the Stoplight and more recently worked in business office management and as a certified medical assistant.

Brehmer and Reid bought the building in late April and got to work giving it a complete remodel in May. Brehmer oversaw the renovation effort.

He and his crew tore out the interior and redid the outside.

“We were just going to leave it kind of like it was, just an old drop ceiling, closed in. Then we tore the siding off the outside, we saw the brick and the arches and we went crazy from there,” Brehmer said. “That’s when we decided to open it up, do the big, high ceilings and put the arches back in and restore it. The building was built in 1880.”

The food offerings at the revamped Stoplight include various bar-style appetizers, pizza, bone-in wings, chicken strips, fries, sandwiches and fresh-never-frozen burgers. Brehmer hopes to roll out lunch hours at the Stoplight soon and bring back the original broasted chicken that was a popular menu item during the business’ previous iteration.

The bar meanwhile has canned and bottled beer as well as a full range of liquors. Brehmer said tap beers eventually will be offered and that customers have asked for India pale ales and craft brews to be added.

“If we don’t have it and you want it we’ll get it,” he said.

More than 100 people were in the Stoplight throughout opening night, and Brehmer said the space each night since then has been packed full of customers.

“It’s still stressful in the fact that we’re busy and it’s overwhelming, but the stress of getting it open and the money coming in the other way now is a weight lifted off the shoulders,” Brehmer said. “There’s been great support from the community. We’ve just had great feedback.”

He and Reid plan to throw a grand-opening street party and dance for the Stoplight sometime in late spring or early summer.

Another future modification project Brehmer hopes to start later this year is gutting the upper level of the building to convert it into bed-and-breakfast-style rental space.