Among the 500 residents of Danube, in west-central Minnesota, is Diane Pfarr, 59, a hard-working woman who rises weekdays at 5 a.m. to open the Main Street Cafe, a business in Danube she’s owned since 2004.
Monday through Friday, the establishment’s morning regulars belly up to the counter to order the sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, while at noon the beef commercial is a fast seller, all of it tasty and delivered at a fair price.
A few weeks back, I stopped at Diane’s cafe at noon. The place was full. This was a working man’s lunch hour, with ball caps over blue jeans the most prevalent attire.
I wore slacks, a sport coat and a pressed shirt, having just come from nearby Renville, where I attended the funeral of Mary Lou Smith, mother of my friend, Will Smith, and attended lunch afterward in the basement of Renville’s Holy Redeemer Catholic Church.
“It’s pretty much the usual funeral hot dish,’’ Will said as we paraded alongside a long table of home cooking. “But it’s good.’’
So in early afternoon when I headed back to the Twin Cities, covering, initially, the 6 miles or so that separate Renville from Danube, I had no need to stop at Diane’s place to eat.
Nor did I need another tour of Danube, having seen most of it as recently as Oct. 12, the pheasant opener.
On that day, a Saturday, Will and I and our kids were looking for lunch, and as is our custom, we preferred a down-home cafe in a small town, the kind of place where you can order a hamburger and say, “run it through the garden,’’ without the waitress sighing deeply and scribbling “jerk’’ on her notepad.
But there would be no lunch at Diane’s place. She was closed. A sign said as much on the front window. And another sign said, “For sale.’’
Subsequently, two problems arose. One: I misinterpreted the signs on Diane’s cafe to mean the establishment was closed permanently. And two: In my column the next day, Sunday, I mentioned this presumed shuttering, and also that the place was on the block: for sale.
Fast forward to a week or so later. My son, Cole, his friend, Max Kelley, and I are en route to Canada to hunt ducks. I’m driving my truck, and Cole is reading my e-mail to me. This isn’t unusual: I’ve got nothing to hide, and when I’m driving, the process saves me time.
And anyway, nothing about the critical nature of some correspondence I receive surprises my kids anymore. Yet when Cole said, “Hey Dad, you really made this woman mad,’’ I perked up.
“Yes my cafe is up for sale,’’ Diane wrote. “But had you read the days and hours on the window, you would have seen the cafe is only open Monday-Friday. The For Sale sign had nothing to do with my cafe not being open.
“I am not sure where you are from and how your town operates. But in a small town we communicate with each other. I have on numerous occasions opened the cafe for hunters, golfers, special occasions and events. I wonder now: Will you as a human being make any effort to right this wrong, or just ignore it, because it no longer concerns you, and you’re on to the next assignment?’’
Pulling into Danube after Mary Lou’s funeral, I wasn’t driving my truck. Instead I had my P-P-P-Prius (I stutter even when I write the word), and there was no way I was angling it alongside the noontime assemblage of Silverados, Rams and F-350s that decorated the curb in front of Danube’s Main Street Cafe.
So I parked around the block and walked to the town’s lone restaurant, finding there a woman on the stool nearest the door.
“Diane, here?’’ I asked.
“I’m Dennis Anderson.’’
“From the Star Tribune.’’
Now a haberdashery of ball caps swung in my direction, and I wondered briefly just how popular permits to carry might be in farm country.
“I’m sorry about messing with your business,’’ I said. “I made a mistake.’’
A good-humored woman, Diane later told me she’s been in the restaurant business all her life, that her 33-year-old son, James, helps her at noon, but otherwise she’s pretty much the staff at the Main Street Cafe.
“I’m in no hurry to sell. But if I do, I’ll go to another restaurant. Or I’ll work at Wal-Mart 30 miles away,’’ she said.
Maybe that will happen sooner than later. Maybe not. Meantime, if you’re headed west on Hwy. 212, and you’re hungry, check out the Main Street Cafe in Danube.
Try a beef commercial (roast beef over mashed potatoes, smothered in gravy), or a burger run through the garden.
But like the window signs say: only between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m., weekdays.
Anyone can see that.