1992 / 1999
At home no more than a couple of days we d rove to Audubon for something and passed the Audubon Truck Stop Café that had a “closed” sign in the window. Almost as a joke I said to Frances “we can run a café, but by the time we were headed the other direction, we decided to inquire about who handled the leasing . Directed to Sid Olson in Orton’s Detroit Lakes office I called and made arrangements to meet him at the Café. Once inside it was apparent that the unit was complete enough to operate as it stood.
There was some misgivings with the “grand fathered” coke coolers but the terms and rental cost was surprisingly low. Before we made a final commitment it seemed reasonable to talk to some of the food suppliers to find out what this business was all about. Everybody we contacted was happy to meet with us at the adjacent convenience store and answered the questions we had. Then it was time to do it and we did.
I started on a preliminary menu just as I would price out anything else, got in touch with the Workman’s Comp people and a Liability insurance carrier. Orton, the building owner, had the building covered. We assumed from the beginning that changes would be needed as we found what people wanted. Of particular help was Cameron Haukedahl who had built the whole truck stop complex and was very patient in educating us on the Audubon community. We would find it and the people different to say the least.
The only controversy that arose was with the State who tried to make the case that we were accepting unemployment compensation responsibilities for previous owners and employees. This ultimately took an eight page written argument against any liability for past occupants of the building which was the end of the matter and we were able to get on with the food business.
The opening came, which was advertised only by word of mouth. Breakfast was nothing to crow about and it seemed that dinner was going to be the same way until as on cue the place filled up and I was running my head off. Frances never got a bit flustered. An order got done when it was done. To say that everything went even close to well would be an outright deception because it was a full week before I was even close to being satisfied with how things were going from a service aspect. The income was far and away more than we had expected. The one item that was never given any thought was tips which were not unlike decorations on a very well sweetened icing on the cake.
Our largest single expenditure in opening the café was Workman’s Comp. Insurance and it was our intention to hire several people to help and at least a half dozen people were interviewed all of whom left me with the feeling that they would be doing me a favor if they came to work. A typical interview would consist of the applicant telling me when they would be available or what days they needed off. Others, who had food service experience would list what they would and would not do and, of course, when they would be available. Since my criteria was somebody willing to do what they were told who could keep up with me we ended up doing everything by ourselves save for the weekends that when Kevin and Carole came to help.
We did have a cook for a short time who was recommended by one of the locals. She came with her own skillet explaining she could not cook on a grill and had a list of things that she could not do. This went on for a short time but only until Frances began noticing packs of cigarettes missing from her purse and the lady was sent down the road. Much of the local Audubon mentality was to the effect that any new business owed it to the community to hire locals whose vast experience boiled down to loafing their lives away.
Indeed I was treated to a lecture from the parochial intellect of one of the bank employees that reasoned that the lakeshore residents should bear the financial burden of building and maintaining all the Township roads since they served only those on the lakeshore. There were those who went so far as to suggest that there should be a two tier pricing of the menu items, the lowest being reserved for locals.
Thus it was that the selfish local types were discounted as having any importance to our continuing operations and we wet out of the way to cater to the employees of Audubon Engineering and the walk ins from the highway and ultimately the menu was changed to accommodate their tastes.
Including all counter stools, booths and tables this café seated more than 85 people and it was full often, especially during holidays and the We Fest Concert. Kevin and Carole were on hand for most of these , but every operation and menu item was that which required the least prep and serving time. Those mental misfits that claim that “home cooked” is always the best needed to find another place to eat.
All of our pancakes and French toast was Krustez pre cooked and frozen, needing only two minute warming in a microwave and we had more than one of the local area farmers that came only for these items. The intellectual challenge was the dumb bell that thought he had to have whole wheat French toast. The stock answer to the worn out inquiry about the size of our pancakes was simply 5 ¼” +/-1/8”. There just wasn’t time for long winded discussions.
The last four years following the calculation that a holiday or We Fest required handling over two tons of restaurant ware dishes and table service we began using foam serving items and plastic eating utensils with the resulting complain from the locals that “coffee tastes different in foam cups”, but they nearly always wanted a refill before leaving.
We had the half pound cheeseburger at least 5 years before the fast foods competition. Harkers meat service had a sale on seven ounce 80/20 burger patties with a price that couldn’t be passed up. I bought two boxes of these and weighed the resulting sandwich after the burger patty had been across the grill with cheese and a bun added and found that there was well over a half pound . The menu board language advertised a “half pound sandwich”, not a half pound burger.
The seven ounce patties were gone in no time, but the half pound sandwich had to stay, so I bought four different brands of 80/20 half pound patties and Frances put each across the grill and they were then were weighed. The Rochester Meat patty came off the grill nearly a full ounce better than the rest with Harkers being the lightest . Then we had to find an oversize bun which finally was ordered from the bread store on #34 East inDetroitLakes. This sandwich was only sold as a basket, with fries, and was an absolute winner.
Next in line was the chicken strip basket. We bought random sized chicken strips from Harkers which were price at about 2/3rds of sized strips with the largest going into baskets and smaller ones into the menu chicken sandwich. The crumbs were put on a bun with a piece of bacon and glued together with a slice of Swiss cheese for a chicken, Swiss and bacon sandwich served with a soup and sandwich dinner special.
Our first year in the café was 360 days from 6 AM to 9 PM and gave us the experience and information for all that followed. We had our own sign made for “FJ’s” café, had the RV parked back of the building, so a trip to the lake was only on an as required basis, reserved handicap parking near the front door and began cleaning up the item on the Health Department inspection list.
We had a complete power failure shortly after 1 PM, fortunately with the noon hour complete. I was obvious that the failure had to be in the incoming service line so we contacted the Wild Rice Co-op man who lived in Audubon. He knew what had happened before arriving at the building Our café had started as only a coffee shop with seating for about 20 people with the dining room and several kitchen outlets added later. Our man from Wild Rice had tried to tell the owner that the electrical service was inadequate for the additional load but was ignored. The failure was complete with the incoming service wires being completely melted. The two of us reviewed the problem with Sid Olson , from Orton’s and after reference to their home office They had an upgraded service installed and we were back in business before noon the next day.
Our relationship with Frank Orton, owner of the building, couldn’t have been better. We were getting the deferred building cleaning taken care of. This never escaped his notice in his the brief visits and it was not long when he would top in, then go through the door to the convenience store where he could be heard dressing down their employees for not keeping the store clean.
Orton’s had to replace some of the fuel tanks in front of the building and the excavation and resulting stock piles of excavated materials took all the parking areas resulting in the café being closed, We left for a trip first to Des Moines, for a short visit with Shirley, then on to Joplin MO to see Frances Dad and sisters Darlene and Lillie. Then back north to Brooking SD where Kevin was working for SDSU and lo and behold there was a café across from the campus that was closed.
Looking at the interior it needed a couple of pieces of equipment and we decided to open it. Wolds moved the trailer to Brookings an we had the café up and running in less than a week. This was possible primarily because in SD the state agency goes out of their way to facilitate and expedite the opening of any new business.
This was an altogether different customer base including both student and staff from the University. The weather there was a little below normal for temperature an more snow than usual but the RV stayed comfortable and it turned out to be a good winter business wise. The biggest surprise was the die hards from Audubon that drove down for breakfast on a weekly basis. I thought they had lost their mind but they seemed to enjoy the trip. It these fellows that brought word that Orton had finished work on their fuel tanks and that the café was again empty and idle. I contacted Sid Olson again and we worked out a new lease which allowed us to begin replacing their equipment with our own items This would allow us to upgrade the equipment and get the tax benefits at the same time. This done we closed down the Brookings unit as the summer session was beginning and reopened the Audubon café in time for the summer season.
The new equipment made a difference in several ways. We brought a gas deep fryer from the Brookings unit to replace the smaller and slower electric unit that had always been there . I was able to buy matching freezer and cooler units from a Fergus Falls business that was moving to a new building which replaced the grand fathered coke coolers. The equipment upgrades and ongoing clean up resulted in a clean sheet for 1997 when the state inspector hand delivered the his inspection report with no deficient items listed and congratulated Frances on having the only 100% inspection in Becker County.
The last three years in Audubon was the period of opposition to becoming one school district with Lake Park. Cameron Haukedahl approached me about helping with a mailing campaign to oppose the combining of the two districts. Consequently I drafted all the letters and Cameron signed and mailed them.
I had little sympathy with either of these districts. Having studied the Lake park budgets for the past ten years it was obvious to any body that The Lake Park district was broke because they wasted funds like drunken sailors. A budget item for sun tanning cheerleaders is nothing more than a bunch of profligate mommies at large with public funds. The local bank wouldn’t even loan the school district money.
On the other hand Audubon had gone through a teacher’s strike in the past and had incurred the enmity of the Minnesota State School apparatus who, I was convinced, were determined that the Audubon district was going to be eliminated. As I came to understand the strike issue the school board wanted to extend the teacher work day by one hour without additional compensation. To my mind the school board position was unqualified madness. On the other hand I could understand how it could happen especially after becoming acquainted with the person who was the board president at the time He later brought suit over his inheritance taking his father to court to get his without waiting for the fathers passing.
But we experienced the same thing. It was a me attitude to an extreme that we had never encountered before. Upon returning from SD the mail was our home address and the bank account stayed in SD and I enjoyed the resulting study in locals with nose problems. The Audubon PO “lost” 3 of the mailed checks to Orton’s office.
A hallmark of the most every male member thins he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, stop a speeding train in its tracks and catch bullets in mid flight. This characteristic is so prevalent that one seldom encounters a mild mannered reporter at least that was the front door traffic. It was different personalities that frequented the back door and at odd hours. It was surprising how many of these fellows developed a special relationship with Frances most of the time needing only a make it all well bandage on a skinned ego.
Thus it was no great surprise to see Marlin late in the day on his way home from work. This night, however, Marlin’s world, as he saw it was coming to a horrible end. He had had a terrible accident and now his girl friend was pregnant. Marlin, at the time was in his mid forties and the prospect of his imaginary complications had him frightened almost to the edge of incoherence. It wasn’t the ordinary mommy problem that Frances usually dealt with but she got him calmed down and began to tell him the good things that could happen and was able to send him home smiling.
As it turned mother and dad were married. The first time I saw the mother was when they brought the baby for Frances to see. I would guess that she was 15 to 20 years his junior and very, very attractive and the very tasteful attire emphasized the most outstanding features My conversation with her convinced me that there was more planning for this child than Marlin ever suspected . When I voiced this opinion to Frances after they left, her response was a short ant to the point “so what” The sad part of story is that Marlin was from one of the genetically deranged families wherein the male members pass on at a very young age. Marlin’s brother has passed away about eighteen months prior to this and Marlin was to be gone in about five years, yet there is an older sister that survives yet.
All good things come to an end. Indeed we had bee trimming back on the work at the café for some time. First on the length of days and then closing for about six weeks in the winter to spend a month first in Myrtle Beach VA and then in Galveston TX on the Myrtle Beach trip we went on to visit with brother Dennis and Vivian in Rhode Island and then to Frank and Pats in CT. In The late summer of 1998 we closed it and let it be known that it was for sale. Both the cafe and the RV were gone by Fall.
After Christmas we again went south but in less of a hurry than previously, spending more time with Frances relatives in Des Moines and Joplin than previously then on to Galveston The Galveston stay almost settled into a routine being at the Winnie flea market week ends always getting to the Alvin TX and downtown Galveston antique shops. The stop in Joplin always took us to the auctions in Columbus KS and the antique shops in Webb City MO. Spring 1999 took us to Grand Rapids MI for Evans birth and a short visit.
Then home again for a physical for me, the first ever other than past visits to a series of hospitals. There was a Sigmoid exam of the lower colon. Which had the doctor all upset As he explained there was a polyp as large as his fist; He had taken a biopsy but as he explained it was certain to be cancerous. This was at 10 AM Friday and he had made an appointment with another doctor for 4PM to do some tests needed prior to doing a complete colonoscopy.
I explained what had been found to Frances and she went back with me in the afternoon. They took a chest X ray and some blood and the doctor asked that we stay until he had the results. About 30 minutes later we were waved into his office and told that they weren’t going to do anything until the found what was wrong with my heart and told us that someone would call and give us the time for a stress test the following week. I couldn’t say it was the best Friday of my life with cancer in the morning and heart trouble in the afternoon.
All stress tests begin with your signature on a document that says it’s your own fault if you don’t come out alive. Then onto a treadmill and they do their thing. With no complications here I went on to a sitting test with scope leads attached to the chest which was also considered passable and a scan and colonoscopy was scheduled for the next day. The full body scan was in the morning with colonoscopy set for 1PM. It actually got started at 4PM and was completed about 8PM when the doctor said he wanted to check me into the hospital and schedule surgery for the following . I was awake enough to tell hem there would be nothing until I talked with Frances and we went home.
I returned to Meritcare the following day and was told that the surgery had to be done right away. Frances inquired about the possibility of me winding up with a colostomy and was told there was a 95% chance that I would need one.