The Last Windrow: Don't take your local, smalltown cafe for granted

Unfortunately, they're disappearing across the country.


One subject of discussion at last Monday's coffee table at my local cafe was the recent loss that our beloved Minnesota Vikings sustained against the superior forces of the San Francisco 49ers. To be honest, most of those assembled at the table knew the Vikings were on thin ice and probably wouldn't win, but hope springs eternal out here among the icebergs and snowdrifts.

But, my reason for bringing this up was not the Vikings' loss, but the ability to conduct the conversation at a local, smalltown cafe. Where else would we be able to cry on each other's shoulders or utter pure disdain for a coach's decision? Where else would we be able to hear about the passing of a local person or who won the basketball game last Friday night?

The answer is, nowhere else.

I've come to really appreciate the availability of a local cafe. A place where hash browns are served with eggs over easy and a steaming cup of coffee. In the life of a small town, the local cafe is an essential ingredient to the social fabric of a town. Without them, we who live out here in the "outstate" would truly be at a loss.

Smalltown cafes are disappearing across the country. Finding owners who are willing to pull themselves out of bed at 4 in the morning to truck into a cafe and get the pancake batter ready is getting hard to find. Many small towns have lost their local cafe. The residents who live nearby are forced to drive miles and miles to get their morning "fix."


I've been a part of a pheasant hunting group that has ventured to northeast South Dakota over the past years. We stayed in a small town and enjoyed converging on the local cafe early in the morning to lay out our plans for the day. Not only did we dine on scrambled eggs and hash browns, but we also got to visit with the local residents who seemed happy to see us spending money in their community.

We not only bought breakfast, but we filled up at their gas station, bought shotgun shells at the local hardware store and bought our hunting licenses at the sporting goods store. Besides spending on those things, we also spent dollars at the local motel and at the local bowling alley bar where we drowned our sorrows at missing the unmissable rooster pheasant.

Today, that cafe is gone. In its place is an insurance office and someone selling investments. There is no cafe in the town. How sad. Evidently the dollars we spent there were not enough to keep the place afloat.

In another close-by small town, a local cafe was filled to the brim with hunters on the opening day of pheasant season in South Dakota. We waited in line to be served. Then the owners decided they had enough of the long hours and slack time and they closed the place. The nearest coffee shop was 30 miles away in any direction. For some time there was no cafe there.

The community fathers decided they'd had enough of this and decided to create a cafe in a recently vacated school building. Immediately the local area residents descended on the new cafe. The city fathers managed and operated the business and volunteers helped with the serving and cooking chores.

My pheasant hunting party was happy to see the cafe open, and opening day found us sitting in the cafe awaiting our breakfast order. No one ever said operating a cafe was easy, and our experience proved that. Our waiter took our order, turned it into the kitchen and after a half-hour of waiting, our local, volunteer waiter came out of the kitchen with a tray carrying four plates. He spun around three times in the middle of the floor, looked over the crowd and immediately deposited our order on the table of four local farmers who had come into the cafe after us. So much for fast service.

But, we were happy to have the cafe in business and we ate our meals eagerly before the first shot of the season was heard.

Treasure your local smalltown cafes. They can go away. You will miss them when they're gone. Where else can you discuss the demise of the Vikings in a warm, comfortable chair? Or hear that your neighbor took a fast trip to the hospital last night? I'd miss that.


See you next time. Okay?

John Wetrosky - Last Windrow.jpg

Related Topics: THE LAST WINDROW
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