When his family moved from rural Minnesota to south Minneapolis, Warren Alton Dahl was a teenager hungry for work.
He had had enough of school, he told his mother, and soon learned his way around the neighborhood shops along E. Lake Street. He popped popcorn at a movie theater and may have had other short-term gigs, his family said, but his life changed when neighborhood butcher Harry Swanson hired him on as an apprentice.
Something clicked, and Dahl began a career that spanned decades as he became one of the best-known meat cutters in Minneapolis.
Most people knew him from his years behind the counter at Ingebretsen’s, the iconic south Minneapolis gift shop and meat counter known for homemade sausage, Scandinavian delicacies, and long lines out the door in the days leading up to Christmas.
“He never worked a day in his life because he enjoyed what he did,” said his daughter, Carolyn Christofersen. “He never met a stranger, either. He was always open and above board.”
Dahl, who until five years ago still worked during the holiday rush at Ingebretsen’s, died Jan. 31. He was 92.
For the thousands of people who have walked into Ingebretsen’s in search of specialties such as smoked whitefish, pinnekjøtt (cured mutton ribs), smoked ham shanks or blood sausage, Dahl was their friend and shopping guide, the keeper of Ingebretsen’s Swedish meatball mix recipe, and the owner of a booming voice who shared jokes and warm welcomes.
His only extended time away from the deli was during World War II, when he joined a rifle company deployed to the Philippines. He tried to join the U.S. Army seven times before they took him, Christofersen said. A heart murmur foiled his first attempts.
He carried a lifelong sense of remorse, his children said, because others in his platoon had been killed while he was recuperating in a hospital from a foot infection brought on by a lengthy march through swamps. He eventually returned to the U.S. and married his sweetheart, Arleen, on Dec. 7, 1946.
In the 1960s, the Dahls joined the business of another couple, Honore Ann “Honnie” and Charles “Bud” Ingebretsen Jr., whose family had opened their E. Lake Street shop in 1921. The two families share the business today, with Dahls running the meat counter and Ingebretsens managing the gift shop. (Bud died in 2012; Honnie died in 2016.)
Warren’s son Steven now works as a meat cutter at the deli his father helped create. His children Lenae and Travis work there, too.
“We use all his recipes,” said Steven, “even the pea soup.”
“He was a very friendly fellow,” Steven said of his father. “It seemed everybody who was a customer would come in and before long would consider him a close friend.”
Warren Dahl’s connections through the area included membership in numerous fraternal organizations. He was also known for his love of golfing, fishing and bowling. In 2004, he scored a hole-in-one in Naples, Fla., where he and Arleen spent their winters after they retired.
Dahl’s larger-than-life presence was built on his big voice. He liked to joke with people, too, and he asked his children to have a phrase engraved on his tombstone: “It’s quiet without you.”
In addition to his wife, daughter and son, Dahl is survived by his sister Phyllis Olsen, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
He was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery with military honors.