Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Cafe owner enjoys mingling, music, food

Heather Thorstensen

Date Modified: 11/12/2009 8:27 AM

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Whitewater Cafe

Address: 1204 Whitewater Avenue, St. Charles, Minn.

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. ; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Biggest sellers: All you can eat buffets on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, ranging from $6.99 to $9.99.

Call them at: (507) 932-3048

ST. CHARLES, Minn. -- Bruce Guildner has met Aretha Franklin, Hubert Humphrey and John Denver.

Those were some of the perks after his folk rock band, The New Tradition, won the Sounds of '68 contest. The competition was similar to today's American Idol, Guildner said. It was broadcast that year on ABC. Their win took them to Capitol Records in Hollywood, Calif. With Guildner on bass, they recorded "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" before Peter, Paul and Mary made it a hit.

"I've played music most of my life," he said recently, in between making plates of scrambled eggs and ham in the kitchen of Whitewater Cafe in St. Charles.

Guildner became owner of the cafe about a year and a half ago. Breakfast, lunch and desserts are served throughout the week; dinners are available Friday and Saturday. The restaurant seats 65.

Guildner's experiences in the music industry have helped him in the restaurant business.

"It gave me a way of being a people person," he said.

One of his favorite things to do is to meet customers. It makes his day when a customer says they enjoyed the food.

When he's not mingling, he's cooking. Guildner started cooking at age 10. His first job was as a cook in a drive-in cafe in his hometown of Albert Lea when he was 15 years old. He married, lived in Oregon for 28 years, divorced and returned to Minnesota four years ago.

He was a cook and kitchen manger at Whitewater Cafe before he bought it.

"I decided, why not? I like being my own boss," he said.

All you can eat buffets are a hit. The Tuesday night buffet has build your own burgers, taco salad, tacos, spaghetti with meatballs and garlic toast for $6.99. Friday's buffet has fish and shrimp, ribs, chicken, full salad bar and real mashed potatoes for $9.99. Sunday's breakfast buffet has scrambled eggs, French toast, pancakes, sausage, bacon, ham, biscuits and gravy and two types of potatoes for $6.99.

People will line up outside the door for the buffets, Guildner said. Some drive from Rochester. Once inside, they may make new friends by sharing one of the big, wood tables that comfortably seat six. During the week, the big tables are the meeting place for regular, coffee-drinking customers.

Guildner's menu is full of homemade cooking.

"I don't ever skimp on ingredients," he said.

Breakfast is served all day. He makes his own pancake mix and customers love the biscuits and gravy.

"I've been told that we got the best biscuits and gravy around," he said.

Lunch options include sandwiches, homemade soup and chili. Steak, roast beef and seafood are some of the dinner selections. Kids get menus with pictures to color or games to play. Most children's meals cost $1.99 and come with a free sucker.

The decor takes a cabin theme. Customers who like to fish post pictures of their great catches, there's a place for community announcements and a big, white board promotes daily specials. Paintings by Guildner's mother, Eileen, hang on the walls, as do memorabilia from his music career and a picture of his two daughters, Bridget and Molly, who are now grown.

The cafe enjoys visitors from Whitewater State Park, travelers on I-90 and other surrounding communities.

--Heather Thorstensen

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