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Kuehners continue tradition of elegant, yet casual dining at the White House Supper Club

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 10/14/2013 3:28 PM

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ST. LUCAS, Iowa — Jann and John Kuehner, owners of the White House Supper Club in St. Lucas, are continuing a tradition started by Jann's parents, Mark and Marge Mihm.

The Mihms started the White House in 1965. Mark also owned a barber shop and jewelry store in the same building.

Jann, who grew up working at the White House, dreamed of owning the supper club. She met her husband, John, also of St. Lucas, when she waited on him in the restaurant. They were working in Minneapolis in 1978 when they decided to buy the business from Jann's parents.

"We wanted to move back to the area," John said. "We raised our family here."

The couple has two children, Craig, who lives in Cedar Rapids, and Jill Heins, a nurse at the West Union Hospital. Jill and her husband have 10-month-old twins, and she still works two nights each week at the White House.

Terry and Carol Costigan now own the barber shop down the street and renamed it the Headquarters. Mark's Jewelry is in a house across the street and is owned by Jann's sister, Pat Ridout. Mark, at 92, still helps at the jewelry store and stops in at the White House every week, where he is known for his outgoing personality. Marge passed away, but a granite etching of a photograph taken in 1942, which is the year she and Mark were engaged, hangs on the dining room wall. People often ask Jann if it's her picture.

"St. Lucas is just 175 people, but these three businesses bring a lot of people into town," John said.

Assistant manager Duane Boyer started working at the White House in 1990. A Loras College graduate, he returned home and began working full-time for the Kuehners in 2000.

"This is like home for me," Boyer said. "This is like family."

John and Jann said they'd like to see Boyer take over the business some day.

There are 22 employees, and all but Boyer are part-time. Many have other jobs.

"We have a good time," Boyer said. "We are a close-knit group."

Boyer does much of the cooking during the week, and three to four other cooks work with him on weekends when they can serve up to 500 people.

Mark and Marge hired Jim Perry as the manager and chef.

"Jim taught me to cook," Boyer said. "He was a good teacher. He learned by doing it, he didn't read it in a book."

Corky Everson ran the White House bar for many years. A St. Lucas native, she was a waitress in Chicago for several years before returning home.

"She was really good at etiquette," John said. "She brought a little bit of the big city to this little town."

When John and Jann bought the business, Perry and Everson stayed on.

"With Jim in the kitchen and Corky in the bar, it made our start up much easier," John said. "They trained us."

Boyer describes the atmosphere as elegant yet casual. There is lighting on each table.

Jann said that many people come to the White House for special occasions. Guests come from throughout northeast iowa.

Hospitality makes the White House successful, Boyer said.

"And consistency," John said. "Duane, Jann and I are here all the time. People know us. We're like their family and friends."

"I remember when some of our customers were in baby carriers, and now, they're bringing their children," Jann said.

Dinners are meat, potatoes and vegetables. Steaks are big sellers with several beef, pork and chicken entrees on the menu. Seafood grows in popularity.

"A lot of our customers have a freezer of beef and pork at home so they enjoy a Canadian walleye dinner for something special," John said.

Sandwiches and salads are available for lighter appetites.

John and Jann added a new kitchen in 2010 to quadruple cooking and food preparation space. A party room accommodates 25 to 40.

"I think what people like is the complete dining experience that they get here," John said. "We offer signature cocktails, quality food and excellent service."