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Elmore welcomes a pair of restaurant overhauls

Kathy’s Kitchen puts twist on tradition, while Bogey Bar and Grill gets new management

February 26, 2017
Cody Benjamin - Register Staff Writer ( , Faribault County Register

If the most recent estimates are correct, there are about 650 people give or take a few in Elmore.

What do four of them have in common?

They are the new faces of rejuvenated restaurants in town. They are homegrown symbols of fresh leadership for a couple of small-town eateries close by in distance but varied in customers. They are marching into spring 2017 with ambitions to up local service just north of the Iowa border.

Article Photos

Jodell Oelke, left, and Missy Huber, right, are the new faces in charge of Minn-Iowa Golf Course’s Bogey Bar and Grill.

They are the new ladies in charge at East Willis Street's Kathy's Kitchen, a makeover of the city's Wildcat Cafe, and the Bogey Bar and Grill at Minn-Iowa Golf Course along Highway 169.

Both spots are well known in the community, the old cafe sitting at the heart of one-time U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale's former childhood town and the Bogey Bar attracting countryside golfers less than two miles from the state border.

And both have seen or will see changes, some major and others not so much, under new management this year.

Starting on East Willis, the main road running through Elmore's business district, the old Wildcat Cafe is now in the hands of Trish Holst and Robin Smith as Kathy's Kitchen, named in memory of Holst's late mother.

Holst and her husband, Brian, who contributes to the business outside of work as a Pepsi merchandiser, actually own the cafe, whereas Smith takes care of most of the restaurant's cooking and baking responsibilities.

And while the Holsts only opened Kathy's Kitchen on Jan. 19, roughly two weeks after purchasing the downtown gathering place from Elmore's Cinda Hagedorn, the kitchens of Trish and Robin have "always" been open, they say.

"We worked together for 16 years at the Blue Earth Dairy Queen before this," says Smith, who commutes to Elmore for the six weekdays Kathy's Kitchen serves the town. "Trish was the general manager there, and I was the cake manager."

Smith's time at the nearby DQ predated her longtime friendship with Holst, but the latter says she, too, has been in and around the food service industry since she was a kid.

Whether starting out as a carhop for Elmore's old drive-in, logging hours at the old Carousel Bar in town or dipping her toes in the fast-food business at Blue Earth's old Hardee's, she admits she was practically made to own a restaurant. And her mother's influence did not hurt, either.

"My mom managed the grocery store and deli that used to be here in Elmore," says Holst. "And she was a cook for YSI (Youth Services International)," the owner of the town's former youth treatment facility, Elmore Academy.

Her mom, who also cooked for a family of seven, was the eventual inspiration for the Wildcat Cafe's new identity. And the partnership that brought it to life, the bond between Holst and Smith, just seemed like a natural culmination of two journeys alongside plenty of food.

"Cinda just retired, wanted to settle down," Holst says, allowing Smith to lean in and finish her sentence, "and we always talked about getting our own homemade cafe."

That is exactly what they got, much to the delight of a community that had grown accustomed to the presence of Wildcat Cafe even after Elmore Academy, its unofficial partner, closed down in 2014.

"We've still got the signature homemade, Mom-and-Pop-type stuff," Smith says. "It's good food for an affordable price. It's like a big family having a Sunday dinner."

Family might be the right term, as Holst says she recognizes almost everyone who walks through the doors. Big just might be the right term, too. After less than a month of new ownership, the cafe has averaged anywhere between 25 and 50 guests per day, a marketable number for a small-town diner with morning/afternoon hours.

"Turnover has been really good," says Holst, who, with her husband, Brian, is the first new owner of the restaurant in more than a decade. "The townspeople have really supported it, and a lot of people from Blue Earth and Iowa come to check it out."

Just north of the rebranded downtown hot spot, out-of-town visitors are also frequenting the bar that accompanies Southern Minnesota's 18-hole golf club, where Jodell Oelke and Missy Huber, both of Blue Earth, have the Bogey restaurant open with expanded hours.

Oelke worked in town and Huber had been a member at the public club when the two caught wind of a potential management opening. And with an admitted "on-the-fly" embrace of the food service industry, they are now leasing and overseeing the clubhouse eatery with a commitment to increasing Minn-Iowa's clientele.

"The Bogey's name will stay the same and we've kept most of the menu," Oelke says, "but we're trying for a new, more enjoyable atmosphere."

That starts with more flexible hours, which now generally run from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. until golf season, when doors will open even earlier, at 7 a.m. The Bar and Grill is also running with new kitchen equipment and an upgraded event schedule.

"We're having a big St.?Patrick's Day celebration open to the public," says Huber, "and we're trying to get more actual events going on here, just to give the customers things to do."

Monday night bingo, dart leagues and weekend steak dinners are already on tap, and more plans figure to unfold in the summertime, when hours are expanded and Huber's three children aim to help at the clubhouse.

"We just want to make it a ton of fun," says Oelke. "And everyone's been real good to us so far."

Since reopening the Bogey on Feb. 13, the two Blue Earth ladies have also been responsible for collecting green fees at the golf course. It is all part of the "on-the-fly" trial-and-error plan for a staple of local dining.

And a fitting symbol of the changes that have Elmore and its 650 give or take a few residents looking square in the face of an apparent restaurant boom.



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