Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 21, 2005

Irene Weinbeck remembers serving Kool-It cones, super tacos

By Heidi Stutelberg

Serving others is what Irene Weinbeck has been doing much of her life.

Many in Winsted and Howard Lake may remember the Kool-It restaurants of years ago, where ice cream cones and super tacos used to be served – or the theater operated by the Weinbecks in the 1960s.

In 1961, the Weinbecks opened the theater, located where the Winsted city hall is now. Movies were shown on the weekends at 75 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.

Popcorn was served with real butter. “People would come in off the street to buy the popcorn,” Weinbeck recalled.

She also remembers how kids used to hang out on the corner on Friday and Saturday nights.

The theater was open until the early ‘80s, but before the theater closed, the Weinbecks open up two restaurants called “Benny’s Kool-It” and Maria’s Kool-It.”

“Benny’s Kool-It” was located next to their present home, where V’s Grill is now.

“Maria’s Kool-It” was opened in Howard Lake, after they renovated a service station. Both restaurants were named after two of their nine children.

“We sold a lot of malts and super tacos,” Weinbeck said. The super taco was a soft shell taco with refried beans spread over it, and a hard shell was set in the middle. Hamburger or chicken was placed in the center, topped with lettuce, cheese, tomato and hot sauce.

Since the Kool-It restaurants were closed from October until April or May, they would have lines of people to get cones on their opening day. “They were like a miniature DQ,” Weinbeck mentioned. She remembers watching her workers make the ice cream cones too tall. “They would tip over.”

Many of the Weinbeck children worked at the family businesses to pay for their tuition at Holy Trinity School and for their college. “All of our children are good cooks,” she said.

The theater was closed first in the early 80s, Maria’s closed in the early 90s with Benny’s closing in 1993.

Weinbeck has been busy for the past five years helping out fellow senior citizens at the senior center a few hours a day.

A bus brings senior citizens to the senior center each day.

“It’s something to get people together. That’s the only time some of them have conversations with anybody,” Weinbeck said. “You get to know them like family.”

Weinbeck is originally from California. She interviewed for a job at a new variety store opening up in Oakdale, California, managed by her future husband Ben. She was the first one he hired.

It wasn’t long before he asked her out, but he had to ask her mother’s permission first, along with a gift of champagne and candies.

One thing led to another, although it was four or five years before the Weinbecks first came to Minnesota.

At the time, Ben’s dad had recently passed away. But Irene was able to meet Ben’s mother and his four children from a previous marriage.

They then went back to California, got married and returned to Winsted to live in their present home, which has been in Ben’s family since 1861.

Commenting about the people of Winsted, Weinbeck said, “They were so nice when I first came to town.”

Weinbeck remembers hanging clothes outside for her mother-in-law in the winter to get sheets really white.

Tears were running down her cheeks because it was so cold.

Her mother-in-law also taught her how to cook. Weinbeck was the youngest in her family and wasn’t taught how by her mother.

A year later, her mother-in-law passed away and Weinbeck and her husband stayed in the Weinbeck homestead. They went on to have five children of their own.

Most of the Weinbeck’s nine children live in the Minneapolis area. One lives in Texas, and another in Winsted. She enjoys a house full during the holidays.

“We have a wonderful family. My step-children are great, just wonderful.”

Irene’s refrigerator is proof of that, being covered with photos of her children’s families including 15 grand-children and three great-grandchildren.

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