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Lange’s Cafe ends 24-hour service after 62 years

Pictured is Lange's Cafe in 2013. (Brian Korthals / The Globe)

PIPESTONE — For 62 years, Lange’s Cafe stayed open all day, all night and all week. The lights were never turned off. The doors were never locked. The fryers were always warm.

Steve Lange, who’s owned and operated the restaurant since 1976, loves to tell the cafe’s most famous story. In 1961, during renovations to the restaurant and its sidewalk, Steve’s dad Les and uncle Roy, owners at the time, dropped the keys to the front entrance into the wet cement.

“Here’s to never closing,” they declared.

On March 31, the cafe and bakery officially ended its night shift and thus, its record streak of 24/7 service. The store is now open 16 hours a day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Even though the late-night shift had been unprofitable for several years, Lange and his wife Peg had long mulled over the decision.

“It wasn’t sustainable at the levels we were at any more and actually, it had been five years that we realized we were not profitable, but we kept the blinders on,” Lange said. “We wanted to make our 60th anniversary, and once we made that we still kept those blinders on.”

The Langes didn’t want to part with the night shift in large part because it helped create the legend of Lange’s Cafe — a restaurant that never closed. It wasn’t until the restaurant recently lost two late-night cooks that they decided it was time.

“That was the handwriting on the wall that forced the issue right now,” Lange said.

Once he made the decision to change the cafe’s hours, Lange had to make some calls. He needed to install things like light switches and locks that actually work. He was worried about the very idea of closing and opening the store, but Peg was quick to note that Lange’s had been the only 24/7 restaurant in southwest Minnesota.

“If all the rest of them can figure out how to lock up at night and open up in the morning, I think we can too,” she said.

Founded in 1956, Lange’s Cafe became a hotspot for truckers traveling on Highway 75, which at one point ran from Galveston, Texas to Winnipeg, Canada.

“I remember as a boy coming here and seeing trucks parked as far as the eye could see on the road,” Lange said. “That is what created the 24-hour business.”

Various factors, including the development of the interstate highway system, led to a decrease in late-night passers-by. Late-night business experienced a steep drop-off during the financial crisis, when Pipestone lost hundreds of night shift workers at major employers Bayliner and Suzlon Energy.

“Once we lost all that, it seemed like the night shift really changed,” Lange said.

It got to the point where Lange’s could see as few as 10 customers during the “graveyard shift.” With just three or four workers still on the shift, labor costs were accounting for more than 50 percent of sales.

“We were proud to be open 24/7 for so long, but times have changed,” Lange said. “It wasn’t just an instantaneous decision — it was a long, arduous, very, very difficult decision — but we felt it was the best decision for us.”

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