Elaine's Cafe owner enjoys getting to know her customers
By Heather Thorstensen
Date Modified: 03/29/2012 10:10 AM
SPRING VALLEY, Minn.— The menu's front cover at Elaine's Cafe says it's "where good friends and good food meet."
Owner Elaine Horsman takes those words to heart. She has run the downtown Spring Valley restaurant for 35 years and describes her patrons as "friends more than customers."
"You get involved with customers," she said. "You know what's going on with them."
She values that camaraderie.
"I would be lost without this cafe," she said.
Most of the diners are local people— truck drivers and retired farmers. Twotables in the back are usually full on mornings, one that fills with men and one with women.
"They sit and talk about everything and anything and some of them can sit here for an hour or two," Elaine said.
She sometimes steps out of the kitchen to meet customers from out of town.Many are traveling to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester or enjoying a nearby bike trail.
"You can meet a lot of interesting people here," she said.
She credits her business' survival to her customers, staff and family.Her daughter, Pam, has helped with cooking and serving food since she was a teenager. Daughter Teresa lends a hand with bookwork and finances. Elaine's husband, David, helps clean cooking equipment and with the financial side of the business on weekends. Son David Jr. helps deliver meals to the Spring Valley Community Center as the cafe caters Semcac's Meals on Wheels program.
"Everybody kind of has to take part of it," said Elaine.
Her staff includes long-time waitress Ruth Rollie, who will reach her 26th year with the restaurant this year, as well as Mary Vickmark and Joann Mensink.
The decor is prints of wildlife and wood signs, one that reads "Prices subject to change, according to your attitude."
Customers may find a seat on one of eight green stools at the front counter. Younger customers enjoy spinning the stools and making them squeak.Years ago, the building was a bank and the counter was part of it, said Horsman. An open vault still sits under the dining tables in the building's basement.
The menu is traditional American food with hearty portions.
"That's the way I was raised," said Elaine.
She grew up in Spring Valley, where her father worked in the iron mine and her mother and sisters worked in cafes. Elaine has been working in restaurants in Spring Valley and Rochester since she was 14, a career that provided her with many good teachers.
Her cooking philosophy allows no room for fear when it comes to trying new things to get the best flavor.
Breakfast is served until 10:30 a.m. Readers of the Bluff Country Reader gave Elaine's the second-place Best Breakfast distinction in the 2010 "Best of Bluff Country" contest.
Lunch specials, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m, always includes the popular hot beef commercial for $5.75. It comes with coffee, potatoes and gravy. Other specials may be meat loaf, pork tenderloin and chili with hamburger. Liver and onions is served for $6 every Thursday.
Every Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., she offers fish fry and ribs with salad bar for $8.50.
Usually, pies or bars are featured for dessert.
She also makes meals for the local Kiwanis Club on Wednesdays.