Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 25, 2004

New cafe opens in Lester Prairie

By Jane Otto

When the Central Cafe’s door opens, whiffs of freshly baked bread and simmering sauces greet the nose.

In what was once Lester Prairie’s old pharmacy is a cafe where customers can get blueberry pancakes, namesake sandwiches, or homemade pies — “all to die for,” as co-owner Steve Wernimont says.

After a year’s worth of elbow grease refurbishing the Central Avenue storefront, Wernimont and Mary Kay Metz opened their cafe Oct. 12, catering to the breakfast and lunch crowds.

“Mary is our only cook,” Wernimont said. “Consistency has been her key to success.”

That consistency meant bringing some of her tried-and-true recipes from the restaurant, Bill’s Grill, she and Wernimont operated in Waverly for more than four years.

A Delano native, Metz’s cooking has created a niche of faithful followers. “That’s why we didn’t hesitate to open here,” she said. “Saturday and Sunday we have a lot of out-of-towners.”

Cooking is what Metz has done all her life, Wernimont said. “It’s what she lives to do.”

With the exception of Mondays, the Central Cafe lights come on early every morning as Metz bakes bread and rolls for the coming day.

“Homebread” is a Metz trademark and the menu, her signature.

A top breakfast feature is the Anchor, a Waverly favorite, that has homemade hash browns, eggs, kielbasa, and Metz’s own cheese sauce, all served with homebread.

Norm’s Patty Melt honors Norm Jerde of Montrose who frequented the Waverly restaurant and routinely requested the same sandwich. “He had a hearty laugh that carried through the place,” Wernimont recalled.

Billy’s Cabin Cannonball is named after a hamburger that Metz’s dad concocted. “It was so fat, he called it the cannonball,” Metz said.

In addition to savoring the menu, customers can take in the tin ceiling, maple flooring, period lighting, and old wooden booths circa the 1920s.

After they left Bill’s Grill two years ago, the couple spent a year searching for a building. “We needed to find an old cool building that’s us,” Wernimont recalled. “We saw this building, the trim, the maple floors underneath . . . The building pretty much found us.”

Just a shell inside, the building needed plenty of work. The tin ceiling was damaged and a maple floor laid beneath layers of linoleum, plywood, tile, tar paper and staples.

“I spent a year on the floor,” Metz said.

For three months, Wernimont held a putty knife at a 45-degree angle, and along with a hammer, carefully chipped away the cement wall to uncover a portion of the original brick.

Family members were a large part of getting the old pharmacy building up to snuff, the couple said.

Wernimont’s dad built the counters and cabinets, while Metz’s parents took to painting. Metz’s sister faux-painted the west wall and her brother handled the light fixtures. At any given point in time, some member of the Wernimont or Metz family had a hammer, saw, paint brush or sandpaper in hand.

Always by their side, Metz and Wernimont’s 10-year-old black Labrador, Raven, was dubbed job foreman. Because the restaurant’s now open, the faithful family pet now remains at their New Germany home.

Along with family, however, native Lester Prairian and handyman Jerry Jerabek was a “real blessing,” Metz said.

Among a variety of jobs, Jerabek assisted with framing the kitchen and replacing a portion of the flooring.

“If we had a question, he’d come and ponder it, and help us with a solution,” Wernimont said.

Jerabek’s solutions, along with family support, contributed to Wernimont and Metz’s dream of owning their cafe. Metz’s cooking will be paramount to its success.

When asked if she likes to cook, Metz replied, “Oh God, yes,” while crediting her mother and grandmother for her culinary knack.

Visibly proud of his partner’s cooking talents, Wernimont said, “I think Mary will be a good asset here.”

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