Huntsville, AL

3 New Owners Reopen The Thirsty Turtle Deli & Tavern in Huntsville After a Temporary Closure & Business is Booming Again

Zack Love

A popular "dive-bar" has reopened in Huntsville, AL after being closed more than 6 months following the death of the original owner. The three new owners were long-time employees that worked at the Thirsty Turtle for a combined 70 years which keeps their diverse crowd coming back time and time again.
Thirsty Turtle owners Sarah Richman, Nikki Kromis, and Chari Ridzelski-AdamsPhoto

The Thirsty Turtle has reopened after being temporarily closed for over 6 months, which was prompted by the death of the former owner, Marilyn VerMeer. The liquor license was registered in her name, and so for the bar to continue serving liquor, the bar needs an owner that has a liquor license.

Leonard and Marilyn Vermeer were originally from Detroit, came to Huntsville, and opened The Thirsty Turtle Deli & Tavern in 1990, and many things have changed over their 30-plus years in existence. The new Thirsty Turtle has had renovations such as hardwood floors instead of carpet and a fresh coat of green paint, but still embodies the same old Thirsty Turtle they remember. The Thirsty Turtle still allows smoking, which is now a rarity in Huntsville.

Patrons can find the classic wall decor from the Thirsty Turtle of days old, such as the neon signs, the painting of the turtle (seen in the photo above), dart boards, a pool table, and a jukebox.

It is located in the Fresh Market shopping center, known as "The Village" on Whitesburg Drive.

The Thirsty Turtle Temporarily Closed in August 2022

When the former owner, Marilyn VerMeer passed away in 2022 at the age of 73, her daughter, Deanna Wolf, needed to figure out what to do with the bar, which she has fond memories of.

Deanna grew up working at the Thirsty Turtle, and it has a special place in her heart. That is why it felt natural for three former employees to take over the ownership of this classic Huntsville hotspot.

Sarah Richman, Nikki Kromis, and Chari Ridzelski-Adams decided to form an LLC and work out a management agreement to take over as owners of the Thirsty Turtle. Together, they have a combined 70 years of experience working for the bar.

The truth is, they needed to reorganize, in a manner of speaking, in order for the new owners to obtain a liquor license so the Thirsty Turtle can serve liquor again. Being that it is a bar, having a liquor license is vital for the business to stay afloat. That being said, they needed to close temporarily in order to get all of the legal things and the liquor license in order.

Regular patrons were "crying and taking pictures" before the temporary closure. Some were even concerned it may be permanently closed.

The daughter of Marilyn VerMeer, Deanna Wolf, explained the situation to in August 2022.

She said:

“Because the liquor license was in my mother’s name,” Wolf says, “it can’t be honored by the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) Board because she’s no longer with us, so we can’t serve liquor. And if we can’t serve liquor, there’s really no point. People, they do go to The Turtle for food, but it’s not going to keep us afloat.” -Deanna Wolf, daughter of former owner (Source:, Wake 2022)

The Thirsty Turtle then closed in August 2022 while Deanna Wolf took care of business associated with the passing of her mother and transferred the ownership over after a management agreement was in place. Then the new owners were able to get a liquor license.

The Thirsty Turtle Reopened on Tuesday & Wednesday, March 14-15 reported that The Thirsty Turtle Deli & Tavern had a "word of mouth" soft opening on Tuesday, 14 March 2023, and officially announced reopening for "food only" on Wednesday, and had a strong turnout. The reopening was so popular that "by the end of lunch, they'd sold so many burgers they were totally out of ground beef."

Former bartender and new owner Nikki Kromis has been running the kitchen to "master the Turtle's back-of-the-house processes." She has worked for the Thirsty Turtle for 22 years as an employee.

She said:

“I came out here at one time just to help bring food out and it was full.” -Nikki Kromis, one of the new Turtle owners (, Wake 2023)

It's great that this iconic bar with such a rich history in Huntsville can come back strong, which is a rarity in modern times. Most restaurants disappear and never return. Congratulations to the new owners of the Thirsty Turtle Deli & Tavern.

Please help share this article on social media so everyone can be informed about this story.


Wake, Matt. "Thirsty Turtle, iconic Huntsville bar and lunch spot, has reopened." 16 March 2023.

Wake, Matt. "Thirsty Turtle, iconic Huntsville dive bar, closes; owner says temporary." 11 August 2022.

Comments / 1

Published by

Zack covers interesting and inspiring news stories that impact local communities. He has a bachelor's degree and an MBA.

Huntsville, AL

More from Zack Love

Comments / 0