Lang's legacy: Michael's founder remembered after his death earlier this week
WORTHINGTON — When Michael Lang founded his Michael’s restaurant in 1949 — at the time known as Mike’s Spaghetti House, later upgraded to a bigger new building and the title of steakhouse — he didn’t realize he was creating an establishment that would become a beloved Worthington landmark.
Michael’s restaurant drew people from throughout the region to devour plates of onion rings, baskets of garlic toast, bowls of spaghetti and platters of juicy steak. If you had a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion, you headed to Michael’s for the celebration.
For many years, it was THE place in southwest Minnesota to go if you wanted a really good meal and outstanding customer service.
The Lang family sold the business in 2003, but it continued to operate under the Michael’s name through two other owners. Since 2008, the building has housed King’s Wok restaurant, which is currently undergoing repair work after a March fire.
Michael Lang died this week, and soon after his passing a Facebook site (“Growing Up in Worthington — What Do You Remember?”) was flooded with memories of the man and the restaurant he built.
Here are some of those memories:
As a little girl I lived next door to Michael’s Restaurant and the Lang family. Michelle was my best friend. We played together just about every day doing stuff that all little girls did; ride bikes, hopscotch, Barbies, jax, etc. And every once in a while Michelle’s parents let us have dinner in the restaurant. Just the two of us little girls sitting at our own table with the beautiful linens, being waited on like grown-ups, eating the most delicious food among all the other customers. The Lang family has certainly given us all wonderful memories.
Julie Ausham Zellmer, Amboy
I remember the Langs’ establishments from the time I was a very small child. Mrs. Lang had a beauty salon in their home behind the original “Mike’s Spaghetti House,” and my grandmother, who cared for me while my mother worked, used to go there for permanent waves. I remember lurking around the salon during the long process, with the fumes from the chemicals causing me nearly to pass out. Of course I also recall many happy family dinners there from those early days through its later reincarnations, all the way up to the time when the Langs sold. I had been gone from Worthington for decades by the time we dined there last, but I remember being so impressed by Larry Lang’s solicitousness and how he always addressed my mother by name. And of course — the water glasses refilled after almost every sip.
Carole Towne Seaton, Tucson, Ariz. (Worthington High School Class of 1963)
Lew (former Daily Globe editor) and Irma Hudson used to go to Michael’s once a month with a few other couples to “celebrate birthdays.” If no one in the group had a birthday that month they would celebrate Millard Filmore’s birthday. I’m not sure how they came up with that idea.
LuAnn Hudson, St. Paul (daughter of Lew and Irma Hudson, Brainerd)
So many memories of family gatherings at Michael’s. Began going there when I was in grade school. One room with booths. I think Michael waited on us himself back then. When family came in from out of town it was the go-to place. And if we couldn’t go … there was always take out! Many burger baskets and onion rings eaten around the kitchen table. Always tried to fit in a visit there even after I had moved away. We had one of our last family dinners there after Dad’s passing. Michael and Larry made sure we were well taken care of.
Linda Van Grouw Giesen, Shakopee (WHS Class of 1967)
As a family we always went to Michael’s to celebrate birthdays. My Grandpa Tripp loved to eat there and did so regularly. As I got older I spent many evenings after work listening to the live music in the Sicily Lounge downstairs after work. Who can forget the prom dinners, what a classy feeling we got eating there! Above all, they were known for outstanding food and even better service!
Steve Tripp, Maple Grove (WHS Class of 1977)
Michael’s was a Saturday night tradition for my family. We started to go there when it was known as Michael’s Spaghetti House. Always fantastic service. My dad owned Worthington Electric and did a lot of the electrical work for Michael’s steakhouse. The biggest job was when it was remodeled. The entire Lang family were very special. In terms of management, they were definitely an example of servant leadership; always making sure their customers were receiving first-class service. What a great contribution to Worthington! Thank you for years of fine dining.
Cathy Judge for the Judge Clan, Phoenix, Ariz. (WHS Class of 1968)
Not only did Kathy & I eat there frequently, both Michael & Larry hired me to perform there many times in their downstairs bar as a soloist. We miss seeing all who came out to have a good time and meeting so many people that led to long-lasting friendships. Our son, Shane, also gave his first public performance when he was 3 years old and sang Kenny Rogers song, “You got to know when to fold ’em!”
Paul and Kathy Summers, Sioux Falls, S.D.
Well, working for the gas company I was in the kitchen or the basement many times. If it was something that was in urgent need of repair, Michael was at my side watching and hoping the repair would be made. He would be so grateful and happy when something was up and running again. I have great memories of Michael’s — besides the best dining spot for miles around, a legend in their own time.
Milo Hawkinson, Worthington
What I liked about eating at Michael’s was Mike himself! He always went around to make sure everything was OK — food, service and even if your table was OK! When we had a group there, he was always buzzing around to make sure we were taken care of. It didn’t matter WHO you were, you received the same royal treatment.
Arlouine Johnson, Bloomington
I had Larry Lang’s onion rings a few weeks ago in Wilmont. They were a Michael’s steakhouse treat. And I hadn’t eaten them in over 40 years. But it brought back all sorts of memories. Mike Lang provided a place for teenagers to go after sporting events, music and plays. Michael’s never frowned at the “teens” coming in. We were loud and in groups. But we were always, always welcomed. And Michael’s provided a home away from home. We weren’t out on the streets. We weren’t getting in trouble. How unique. A quality steakhouse accepting our nickels and dimes, with terrific service and great big smiles. Michael’s shaped our character as Worthington also shaped our character. Thank you Michael Lang for being there, watching over me, providing me with warmth and comfort and good food. I miss Michael’s. And now I miss Michael Lang. Bravo, sir. Bravo!!!!
Scott Rubsam, Minneapolis (WHS Class of 1970)
I started working as salad lady in 1959 soon after high school. I learned so many things in Michael’s kitchen. Until then, I had only known about French dressing and mayonnaise. As salad lady, I was in charge of making all Michael’s homemade salad dressings, and they were wonderful. (I fell in love with Thousand Island, and it remains my favorite.) I also made the cocktail and relish trays. That’s when I discovered black olives, liver pate and other goodies that I’d never had at the family dinner table. Like so many others, I devoured the delicious garlic bread and onion rings that were made by Margaret Thiner, the first cook and Michael’s right hand. I learned how to make baked potatoes with tasty skin and super hash browns. I remember working evenings just off the Capri Room with Ruby, the saucy waitress, bringing in the orders. The jukebox would be playing “Mack the Knife” over and over during the dinner rush. Thinking back, I realize that although I wasn’t employed there very long, working and learning from Michael was really an enriching experience!
Janice Latzke Wagar, St Paul
I recall walking in to Michael’s to apply for my first ever job as a kid. I was very nervous and had no idea what to expect. Michael took the time to come out from his office and shake my hand, talk with me and even ask about my schooling and sports. He was a genuine person, something you don’t often find in business or employment dealings. He and his son Larry were professional influences on me and many high school kids who had the chance to work at Michael’s. The way they conducted themselves and gave everyone a chance to earn a buck and learn good work ethics, I will always be in gratitude. Some years later I ran into Michael at Hy-Vee in Worthington. I wasn’t sure he would even remember me until he asked me by name to retrieve something from a top shelf for him. Needless to say it made my day to help him out. Only the great managers/mentors and bosses can earn a former employee’s lifetime respect like that.
Robert Vanderveen, Omaha, Neb. (WHS Class of 1997)