Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating supper clubs, including Jerry’s in Owatonna December 4, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The once popular Jerry’s Supper Club, shuttered in downtown Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

SUPPER CLUBS. What visual comes to mind when you read those words?

I picture a dark, probably paneled, restaurant with red carpet. Low lights. Candles flickering on tables draped with heavy tablecloths. Fine cutlery and water goblets. Hefty china.

Menu printed on fine paper and placed inside a thick black leather folder. Salad and steak and mammoth baked potatoes. Or shrimp. Maybe a whiskey sour or a Tom Collins.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

I am of the age that I still remember the hey day of supper clubs. Like the Cat N’ Fiddle in rural New Ulm, where my parents occasionally dined. I recall my mom bringing home packages of crackers lifted from baskets and stuffed into her purse. A rare treat for us kids. And I remember my dad talking about the tasty frog legs he ordered at a supper club in Granite Falls. I always wondered how anyone could eat frog legs. But Dad could enjoy steak—the supper club feature food—any time given he raised beef cattle.

As a teen, I gathered with my best friends at Club 59 in Marshall to celebrate our senior year of high school in 1974. Photos from that day show the five of us bundled in winter coats, wide smiles gracing our youthful faces. Oh, the memories.

Years later, after college and launching my career as a newspaper reporter and then eventually marrying and moving to Faribault, I rediscovered supper clubs. I dined a few times at The Lavender Inn and The Evergreen Knoll. Both closed years ago, as dining preferences changed, the economy tanked and the food scene evolved.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

In Owatonna, a 20-minute drive to the south along Interstate 35, Jerry’s Supper Club closed in 2009. An article published in the Owatonna People’s Press called Jerry’s, opened in 1960, “an Owatonna institution.” I expect people gathered here for business meetings, special occasions or simply supper (not dinner) out at a fancy restaurant on a Saturday night. Perhaps minus frog legs on the menu.

Signage and hours still remain on the door, long after Jerry’s closed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

Soon the building which housed this long-time popular supper club, this place of so many memories, will be gone, replaced by a Marriott Courtyard hotel. Before that happens, I hope someone—perhaps the Steele County Historical Society—salvages tangible pieces of Jerry’s. Like the exterior signage. And, if any restaurant-related memorabilia/furniture/whatever remains inside, that, too.

The building housing Jerry’s Supper Club has architecturally beautiful details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

I photographed Jerry’s in May while walking around downtown Owatonna. The alterations to the exterior of the building with the additions and covered windows and everything painted white are aesthetically unappealing. I don’t know when the changes were made to this once beautiful brick building. But I recognize it was once “a thing” to modernize. I am thankful that mindset has returned to an appreciation for historic structures.

The dated term, “lounge,” remains on the exterior of Jerry’s Supper Club. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

And so progress happens. A much-desired hotel is coming to downtown Owatonna. That will include an in-house restaurant in the former Jerry’s Supper Club space, according to the People’s Press. Nothing can replace Jerry’s. While some supper clubs still exist, especially in Wisconsin, they seem mostly a thing of the past. A place of paneled walls, red carpet and low light. And memories.

TELL ME: Do you have memories of Jerry’s Supper Club? Or of any supper club? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

32 Responses to “Celebrating supper clubs, including Jerry’s in Owatonna”

  1. Ruth Says:

    I’ve never experienced the Supper club experience but I enjoyed reading about yours. Sad the building will be demolished. I hope they salvage the memorabilia as you suggested.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    Saint Paul has/had a supper club called The Lexington. It is where very swanky people dined in ritzy splendor. I always told myself that I would dine there one day.

    Never did.

    On the other hand, down on Cathedral Hill there is a very swanky hotel called The Commodore Hotel. The Commodore Bar, then a speakeasy, was where F. Scott Fitzgerald sipped gin.

    The place was a classic lounge, soft lights, circular velvet couches, real classy.

    When I lived just down the street in a $30/month one-room, share a bath dive, the bar was still classy but the clientele was less so.

    One night, I mentioned to my dad that I was going to meet a girl there. He smiled, “You know that is where I met your mother?” he said.

    I never really knew my mother, she died when I was two.

    “Tell me more.”

    “I tended bar.”

    “Was the place swanky then?”

    “Oh yeah, very.”

  3. COLLEEN HONDL GENGLER Says:

    My family celebrated my 1969 graduation from Owatonna High School by going to Jerry’s for an evening meal. That was a real treat! The Lavender Inn was also great to go to. I think they served popovers with strawberry jam. The other thing about many supper clubs back in the day was the complimentary relish tray with fresh vegetables, pickles, olives and sometimes, herring. You could munch while you waited for your meal.

  4. Boy does this bring back memories of going to Supper Clubs with my parents and my paternal grandparents. My fondest memory was learning how to slow dance (i.e. waltz, two-step, etc.). As a teenager I did not eat at the Supper Club (ate before hand), however; it was nice to go for the dancing and just feeling like one of the adults too. That is one beautiful building! Happy Day and Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  5. BradG Says:

    While growing up, my folks often stopped at a supper club in Waite Park (St. Cloud) (Dad loved his Manhatten there), near Rice, and two places in Aldrich (population only 48!). Don’t remember the names..doubt they are there anymore. The big name chains have taken over.

    • Brad, thanks for sharing your supper club memories. Aldrich is a new Minnesota town name to me.

      I always prefer homegrown restaurants to chains.

    • jhc1218 Says:

      BradG – The River Inn and Ted and Jen’s in Aldrich. I remember going to both of those places with my grandmother back in the 1990s. I think Ted and Jens is still there. It’s the only place I’ve seen pickled gizzards on a buffet.

  6. Gunny Says:

    As a teenager, there were clubs, and I never did attend any. In my 20’s I lived with my grandmother in Moorhead and she sent me to the Comstock which served a buffet when she was out and not cooking. Sometimes I would go on my own.

    Here in San Antonio, Texas, we still have a vestige of the Supper Club. It is a multi dining room restaurant that caters to many “old timer” organizations for their meetings such as Sons / Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons, Daughters of the Republic of Texas and other heritage, historical and church or social organizations. These suppers or luncheons are “Main Events” for many of these organizations. Food and service are always great and one may even catch a glimpse of someone wearing period clothing go through the maze of hallways and dining rooms. Other times most of the people are dressed to the “nines”.

    It is a sad commentary that we see the demise of such businesses as they provided much social interaction for businesses, private parties, and various groups. These places have their place in our social structure much like the Smorgasbords, Cafeterias, drive- through and pizzerias that all have their place in the fabric of our lives. I think a supper club still has much to offer a community today as it did back in time past.

  7. Randy Says:

    Most of places similar to this have fallen away. Just memories supper clubs still exist. Maybe because people would actually “dress-up” to go out . People don’t do that anymore. The only place similar might be the Kaiserhoff in New Ulm or maybe other larger cities.

  8. BERNADETTE Thomasy Says:

    The Lavender Inn was where my parents took my in-laws when they visited from Toledo, Ohio, one summer. Years later, my father-in-law would ask if the restaurant was still there. He could be fussy about food so the place must have impressed him. The Lavender Inn, Jerry’s and the Hubbell House in Mantorville were our top places for a really special celebration. When we were growing up that didn’t happen very often as eating out was a luxury.

  9. Don Says:

    Wow this brings back many memories. Back in the 1900″s my family and I would go to the Drift Wood supper club in Windom. It was always a great meal and it was supper not dinner like you mentioned. My parents would have 1 cocktail before supper and my brothers and I would get a Roy Roger non alcoholic drink I remember going to the Cat N’ Fiddle a couple of time in my youth and your description of a supper club is spot on. In Fairbanks the closest we have to a night club is a restaurant called the Turtle Club it comes close to meeting the description of a night club. Nowadays it seams all we have is pizza places and fast food sad………………

  10. Gene Says:

    Yes, that brick work on that building is fantastic 👌

  11. Mary Varley Says:

    As a native Owatonna, Jerry’s was a special place. Right along Evergreen Knoll and Lavender Inn in Fbo. Good food and memories.

  12. Patrick Randall Says:

    My first job as a youth (aside from paper route) was busboy at Jerry’s – I had to lie about my age to get it, as I was 15 and you needed to be 16 at the time. There was a warming drawer/bin where the world famous garlic toast was kept. Sneaking a piece of that great toast when nobody was looking was a favorite. I moved up to dishwasher, and still to this day can recall just how difficult it was to get the old au gratin potato dishes clean! Thanks for the wonderful article and memory – Jerry’s was indeed a classic.

  13. jhc1218 Says:

    Jensen’s Food & Cocktails is a supper club in Eagan. Jason and I have been there a few times. Relish trays, frog legs, popovers, live music are all on the menu there. A few years ago some girlfriends and I visited the Indianhead Supper Club in Balsam Lake, WI. What a throwback! I’m pretty sure the piano player had been there for 50+ years. There are few books about Wisconsin’s Supper Clubs.
    How fun reading the comments above with the mention of the places in Aldrich. Grandma Helen loved going there with the entire family. I’ve also had opportunities to visit the Lexington, both before and after the big renovations, and the Commodore.
    -Jocelyn

    • Thanks, Jocelyn, for sharing all your supper club memories. I can’t believe a place still serves frog legs. My dad would have loved Jensen’s Food & Cocktails. Quite a number of years back, I saw a museum exhibit in Appleton, Wisconsin, about supper clubs. I see supper club signs along I-90/94 closer to the Dells and Madison, Wisconsin.

  14. David Bryan Kofoed Says:

    I assume , by now you realize that the building that housed Jerry’s Supper Club is not being razed for the new hotel. It is scheduled for renovation. It will be used as part of the hotel project.

    • I have not heard or read that, David. But if that’s the case, that’s great news. Thanks for passing along this info.

      • Chris Nemitz Says:

        It is true, it will not be demolished, the whole building goes back before Jerry’s. I know the history of Jerry’s as I am directly related to him. He was my grandmas brother- Jerry cashman from Austin, Mn. He started in business with a candy store across from Peccelli high school in Austin and went on to own the Alcove supper club. When a liquor license was available in Owatonna, he was one of three people who applied for it, including Eddie Webster from Bloomington. Jerry was awarded the license and hired his nephew- my father, Floyd Nemitz, to cook, bartend, and cut the steaks for the week. So our family moved to Owatonna and that is where I was born and still live. Unfortunately, Jerry and my grandmother, Agnes, had a history of heart disease on the cashman side. Both passed away young but Jerry- even younger at 44yrs old while golfing in Owatonna. His wife Florence continued the restaurant for a few years after that, And I remember my parents doing payroll on the weekends during that period. What made Jerry’s and other supper clubs unique was most of the food was locally sourced. The meat came from ringhofers meats down the street, the bread and buns from Harts bakery. All the salads and dressing were made in house.
        And I remember my dad bringing home signed cards of bud grant and Viking players who came down to dine there with buds college friend buzz Kaplan.
        It definitely had its heyday in the sixties and early seventies, but alas as commercial food distributors pricing became more economically sensible
        And the glory days of Jerry’s faded to just another restaurant. I remember lots of people saying Jerry’s went down hill after my dad left but it was happening to all the supper clubs everywhere. The few that are left are a real treasure.

      • Chris, thank you for sharing this detailed history about Jerry’s in Owatonna. Next time I’m in town, I’ll check out what’s happening to the building. You’re right that supper clubs are a treasure. In our minds. In our history. In our communities.


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