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Jacobson's remodel former Ford garage into popular Lake Lillian cafe

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 03/28/2013 8:57 PM

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LAKE LILLIAN, Minn. — It was quite an undertaking, but also the realization of a dream, when Dennis and Rachelle Jacobson renovated what had been Lake Lillian's Ford Garage into a restaurant.

The building's location, in the heart of the town's business district, was the mainstay for the William Johnson Motor Company. The firm operated from 1923-84. The original building, a wood structure, burned two years after the Ford dealership opened. It was replaced by a cement-block building. The sturdy structure was used for storage in recent years by its owner until it was sold to the Jacobsons in 2009.

They remodeled it over 10 months. They aptly named it The Food Garage.

The cafe's decor pays homage to the building's past. Metal signs bearing the names of popular motor oils and pictures of vintage cars hang from the walls. Many of the items are owned by area residents who loaned the pictures and signs to the eatery.

But it's the food that has customers coming back for more.

Good home cooking is the base for The Food Garage's success. Soups are made from scratch and real potatoes are used in the mashed spuds, Dennis said.

The Food Garage's burger offerings are a hit . While the selections may seem common — hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, mushroom Swiss hamburger, California burger and patty melt — preparation makes the burgers delectable. The hamburgers are served on a toasted bun. A "build your own burger" is offered.

The Food Garage's menu offers more than 70 items from breakfasts to burgers, appetizers to dinners and salad and sandwiches.

Breakfasts include fried egg sandwiches, breakfast burgers and omelets. The three-egg meat lovers omelet with bacon, ham and sausage served with toast sells for $7.75.

Appetizers include breaded mushrooms, bold fiesta poppers, cheese curds, deep fried green beans, sweet potato fries or quesadillas.

Dinner entrees, complete with potato, dinner salad and toast, include fried chicken, cod fillet, butterfly shrimp, shrimp skewer, steak and butterfly shrimp or chicken or shrimp Alfredo. The steak selections include an 8 ounce sirloin, hickory smoked sirloin or ribeye.

The Food Garage offers the meat and potato type meals that many diners love and lighter choices including a variety of salads, soup and grilled meats.

Many of the cafe's diners are health conscious, he said.

"It's surprising how much lettuce we use," Dennis added. "We use from 75 to 100 heads of lettuce a week."

Salad offerings range from the side salad to taco, fajita or crispy or grilled chicken salads.

The Food Garage also serves special meals for occasions like New Years or Valentine's Day by serving lobster or steak and specialty salads. They also have catering services.

They originally thought the cafe would serve customers within a 10 to 15 mile radius of Lake Lillian. However, the establishment has drawn regular customers from 35 to 40 miles away. It's also popular with travelers driving on nearby Highway 7. Dennis notes that many bikers making cross-country treks have stopped at the cafe. Many have found the restaurant when checking the restaurant locators on their GPS and phone systems.

The Food Garage is a community meeting place where people go whether it's a family outing or morning coffee with friends. It offers good food at reasonable prices and friendly service that makes you feel welcome.