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Cafes earn Beef Backer award

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 02/05/2013 4:20 PM

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LAKE ELMO, Minn. — A historic inn in Lake Elmo and cafe in Pipestone are this year's Beef Backer award winners.

It's the first time ever that two restaurants have been recognized with the prestigious award that honors independent and chain restaurants whose extraordinary leadership in menuing and marketing beef sets them apart from their peers in food service.

The award winners are the Lake Elmo Inn in Lake Elmo and Lange's Cafe in Pipestone.

A ceremony was held Jan. 8 at Lake Elmo Inn to present their Beef Backer award.

Chef John Schiltz, who has owned the inn since 1983, served the guests assembled for the celebration their Elmo's Sirloin, which is described on their menu as certified Hereford beef sliced sirloin with a wild mushroom jus lie. The guests raved about the steak, with one man asking him for a feather to cut his steak.

Along with the Beef Backer award, the inn received a proclamation from Gov. Dayton noting the honor. The award is in the restaurant's lobby and will later be displayed in the restaurant, Schiltz said.

He started his career in food service at 16, working as a dishwasher at Ben's Elmo Inn, the restaurant he now owns. His aunt, Dolly, got him the job there.

Schiltz worked at Ben's Elmo Inn for four and a half years, while in high school and while in culinary training at St. Paul Technical Institute. After graduation from culinary training, he left the state, spending several years working for several food service companies. In the early 1980s, when he was in his mid-20s, he was promoted to an executive chef at a Hyatt hotel in Des Moines. It was there that he learned marketing, sales and teamwork. The executives at the hotel worked to turn the hotel around from a hotel that was losing money to a hotel that made money. They were a tight group who lent each other a hand whenever needed. The hotel was recognized as having the best Sunday brunch in the Des Moines area during his tenure. It was during this time that Schiltz received an outstanding leadership award from Hyatt hotels. He was the second youngest Hyatt chef ever to receive the award.

Then in September 1983, he came home unannounced for a wedding. Dolly called him while he was at home, telling him that Ben wanted to sell the inn.

Schiltz visited Ben the next day and pleaded his case. Ben said he wouldn't sell to him, but Ben's wife interceded on Schiltz's behalf, telling her husband to give him a chance. Schiltz found a couple investors and bought the inn, renaming it the Lake Elmo Inn. He's now in his 30th year of ownership.

He and his wife, Chris, who has a background in catering, have grown the business, adding catering, an event center and also running the cafeteria for Imation in Oakdale. Their children are also involved. His daughter, Anna, is an assistant manager, and Chris's son, Frank, is a chef for them at Imation. Chris's son, Sam, is a banquet waiter at the event center. His daughter, Laura, does their marketing and his son, Hunter, worked there before starting his own business.

Schiltz had 20 employees when he purchased the Lake Elmo Inn and has 150 now.

The event center opened in 2006 in a former VFW hall. It's a popular place for weddings, business meetings, graduations, anniversaries and other events.

They cater events throughout the Twin Cities area with the University of Minnesota being one of their best clients. They feed the football, boys and girls hockey and girls basketball teams on a regular basis.

Schiltz applied for the Beef Backer award in September, after learning of it through Sysco Foods.

They remodeled the inn in July and made a huge turn toward on beef on the menu, Schiltz said. He likes serving as much Midwestern product as he can and focuses on serving a line of 1881 Certified Hereford Beef.

When he learned of the 1881 line, it sounded perfect, as the inn was started in 1881.

The 1881 line offers excellent flavor, tenderness and juiciness, Schiltz said.

The Lake Elmo Inn features several steaks on their menu, including the bone-in rib eye, New York strip, prime rib and T-bone. Their diversified menu also includes lamb, pork, duck, walleye and sunfish. They prepare fried chicken from scratch. They have an award winning Sunday brunch. Each day, they feature 10 to 12 homemade desserts.

Lange's Cafe

Lange's Cafe is owned and operated by Steve and Peg Lange. The cafe has been in operation for 56 years, with recipes handed down through the generations.

The cafe teams with the agriculture community to feature specials. Last spring, Lange's partnered with Pipestone County Cattlemen's Association for their Beef Roundup promotion. Servers promoted beef entrees and received prizes for doing so.

Several customers and staff also received gift certificates for submitting Lange's Cafe as an entry in the Minnesota Beef Council's Great Beef Eating Experience contest in May.