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Plenty of poultry, Elvis and friends at Helen's Country Cafe

By Heather Thorstensen

Date Modified: 12/10/2009 10:38 AM

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Helen's Country Cafe

Address: 12 Church St., New Market, Minn.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.

Best seller: Hot beef sandwich, $5.95. The beef comes from a big roast seasoned, prepared and sliced in the cafe.

Call them at: (952) 461-4955

NEW MARKET, Minn. -- Judging from the decorations in Helen's Country Cafe in New Market, owner Helen Page has two things she really likes: Poultry and Elvis.

All of the restaurant's poultry decorations started with a single wallpaper border of bantam chickens she put up when she took over the cafe nearly eight years ago. Her family raised banties on their farm when she was young. Customers saw the wallpaper and began bringing her all sorts of poultry-related things.

It's the same story with The King. She likes Elvis from the 1960s-era in black, leather outfits -- "no jumpsuits!" -- and customers were happy to donate.

"There isn't a handsomer man on the face of the earth," Page said.

But look past what's on the walls and it's clear what she really loves is her customers. It's her favorite thing about her job.

"I like people, I really enjoy people," she said last week as she worked quickly to fill orders. She was working on her own as hostess, waitress and cook. Even though she was as busy as could be, she didn't rush customers who wanted to talk.

"Helen cooks for a passion, not as a job," said a regular customer and friend, Tom Trefethen of Burnsville, who helped by offering menus and coffee.

The cafe seats 65 and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert with daily specials from Tuesday to Friday. Breakfast is the only meal served Sundays. There's a fish fry every Friday evening for $8.95 with hand-battered cod. Hand-battering allows for a lighter breading, Page said. Dinners range from $7.95 for a grilled pork chop to $10.99 for a 10-ounce ribeye and come with choice of potato, salad or coleslaw, and a dinner roll or garlic bread.

Meals are homemade, including never-frozen, hand-pattied burgers. Soup is a house specialty, especially her potato soup. She's experimented with seasonings and has a secret ingredient.

"I wouldn't buy soup," she said.

The customer base has grown from her many years in local hospitality jobs. She first worked at the cafe as a manager under a previous owner, then moved nearby to the now-closed Glenno's Pizza in Elko for 14 years. It was owned by her boyfriend, Glenn Sybrandt. When he sold the business, Page returned to the cafe as owner.

"I've fed everybody from everywhere," she said.

She's watched children grow up over the years and then invited them to work for her. She also employs many family members.

Sybrandt, who died last year, was also an antiques dealer. It's because of him that some big, round, old tables found their home in her cafe. Customers also sit in mismatched kitchen chairs Page found at garage sales.

"People come in here and they'll sit for hours because it is like sitting in their own kitchen," she said.

Her group of morning coffee drinkers can be there up to three hours.

She would like to see her granddaughter, Britney, eventually take over the cafe. Britney used to work there and is currently attending culinary school, Page said.

Until then, she is happy to send diners on their way with a hug, or at least an enthusiastic "Thanks a million!"

--Heather Thorstensen