Lange's: Always open since 1956
PIPESTONE -- They may say you need a college degree to get ahead these days, but the owner of Lange's Café, Steve Lange, proves that isn't always the case.
Thirteen credits shy of his college degree, Steve returned to Pipestone to help with the family restaurant started by his father, Les, mother Millie, and uncle Roy. Forty years later, he still runs the business and said he loves his job.
"It's been in the family for 57 years, and it's never closed since 1956," Lange said of the restaurant that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In fact, there isn't even a key to lock the doors. During a 1961 remodeling, Steve's dad ceremoniously dropped the keys into the wet cement of the sidewalk to signify the restaurant's commitment to staying open continuously.
Lange emphasizes that running the business is a joint effort with his wife, Peg.
"She does all the promotional work and printing. She was in radio advertising so, thanks to her, we can do all our promotions here as a team," Lange said.
Just this year, Lange's Café was awarded the Beef Backer Award from the Minnesota Beef Council, sharing the distinction with a Twin Cities-area restaurant in Lake Elmo.
A longtime supporter of the beef industry, Lange's Café's menu is full of items featuring beef for any meal of the day and has steak night every Saturday.
Established in 1988, the award recognizes restaurants using new beef cuts, quality beef products and marketing communications and has been given to some of the finest restaurants in Minnesota.
Lange said only high-quality Midwestern beef is used and that National Beef Month is marked each May.
In 2012, the restaurant partnered with the local Cattlemen's Association, Minnesota Beef Council and its employees to promote beef with cowboy-themed advertising, featuring the Langes' grandchildren and also children of some of the café's employees.
To be considered for the award, Lange's Café submitted an application highlighting the efforts of the café and their support of the beef industry.
Lange's Cafe started featuring a specific food with Dairy Month in June.
"Then we did Pepsi Month. For that first Pepsi Month, we collected the number of people and had 1,800 people enter from 33 states and three foreign countries," Lange said.
The promotion was so successful that Lange's Café added Pork Month in October and National Beef Month in May.
Good beef needs equally good sides to go with it, and Lange's once again doesn't let diners down.
"All our mashed potatoes are made from real potatoes," Lange said. "Making our gravy is a four-day process from beginning to making the gravy."
The restaurant is also a full bakery and catering service. It employs 34 people in the winter and about 40 in the summer, Lange said.
Lange's Café gained national recognition in 2002 when food critics Jane and Michael Stern wrote about it in a monthly article for Gourmet magazine.
According to the Sterns' blog, Roadfood.com, Jane and Michael "swooned with pleasure over and over again" as they sampled food from the menu. Michael wrote that the "beef is the entrée not to miss" and praised "the best sour cream raisin pie ever made ... 10 on a 1 - 10 scale ... the crème de la crème ... the Mother Lode."
A specialty of midwestern bakers, Lange's sour cream raisin pie has become famous in its own right.
"It was the best they've ever had," Lange said.
Lange's Café's fame continued to grow as the Sterns talked about the restaurant.
"They also do a weekly program on National Public Radio called 'The Splendid Table,'" Lange said, "where they've talked about Lange's at least half a dozen times."
Lange recalled a story about a good friend who was returning from a trip to Seattle. While he was in the middle of the mountains, his brother called and told him to turn on NPR because they were talking about Lange's Café.
Lange said the restaurant has also been known for its bakery section ever since they made the Stern's list of "The Top 10 Donut Shops" in America.
"There was a bakery from Missouri, California, Michigan, us and then the rest were on the East Coast. They talked about three things: our cake donuts, our caramel rolls and our sour cream raisin pie," Lange said.
The authors of several books, Jane and Michael Stern also included Lange's Cafe in some of their publications, including: "500 Things To Eat Before It's Too Late and the Very Best Place To Eat Them," "Roadfood: A Coast-to-Coast Guide to 700 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlor, Highway Diners and Much Much More" and "Road Food Sandwiches."
Lange's Cafe has also been featured in Minnesota Monthly and Minneapolis-St. Paul Weekend Getaway magazines.
Lange attributes part of the café's success to the Pipestone National Monument and the tourism it brings to the county.
"We've always been an agriculture-based community, but secondly we've been a tourist community and a destination for tourism," he said. "I believe the monument draws a lot of visitors for people who are interested in the history of Native Americans."
After 40 years at the restaurant, Lange admits that he is getting close to retirement age.
"But I don't intend to retire. I enjoy my customers and employees," he said. "As in any business, there are some things that aren't as enjoyable as others, but overall, I really enjoy it."
As for what will happen to the nationally known restaurant when Lange eventually does step back, Lange said he doesn't know yet.
"I don't have any family member who wants to be involved," Lange said. "All my kids are enjoying their own career paths. We have had discussions about possibly hiring an assistant manager who could eventually be a partner."
With a laugh, Lange said it will be hard to give up the reins of a business that he has developed from a small-town favorite to a nationally known must-stop for travelers.