Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Happy moments at Happy Chef July 1, 2021

Happy Chef reinvented at A-Z Restaurant Equipment. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

OH, THE YEASTY SCENT of bread, of a warm mini loaf dripping with powdered sugar icing. Such are my memories of college day visits to the Happy Chef restaurant in Mankato.

Back in 1974 through 1976, I would walk with friends from the Bethany Lutheran College campus to the hometown restaurant along US Highway 14. There we would talk and laugh and savor a treat that was more sweet rolls than bread loaf.

I don’t recall the cost of our indulgence. But, as a poor college student, the price had to be affordable.

Details elude me decades later. Yet I recall the deliciousness of that bread and the iconic Happy Chef statue that stood outside the restaurant. He sported a white chef’s hat and attire and waved a wooden spoon.

Today, only one Happy Chef restaurant remains, this one along US Highway 169 near the interchange with US Highway 14 in Mankato. It was the first Happy Chef to open in a family restaurant business founded in 1963 by the Frederick brothers—Sal, Bob, Bill and Tom. The Happy Chef statue still stands there. And now the owners of that restaurant are soliciting some G-rated one-liners to add to their Chef’s voice. Yes, he “talks.” Click here to submit suggestions via Facebook.

A Happy Chef statue also poses along US Highway 169 north of Princeton at A-Z Restaurant Equipment Company. That repurposed roadside art, spotted on a mid-May drive north to a central Minnesota lake cabin, prompted my college day memories of sharing warm mini bread loaves with friends at Happy Chef. Oh, such happy moments…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The flirtatious Bread Man February 14, 2011

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THE BREAD MAN was giving out bread samples on Saturday at a local grocery store.

I call him the “Bread Man” because I don’t know his name. He has a few decades on me and he’s the nicest, smiley-est demo person I’ve ever met. I’m pretty certain he also sells a lot of bread. He’s a convincing salesman.

I once worked as a grocery store demo person. I can appreciate the Bread Man’s skills.

After sampling a few mini-slices of artisan style bread, I picked up a bag of the Sicilian Baking Stone Bread which the Bread Man recommended. With the 50-cent off coupon he offered, the loaf cost only $1.49. I couldn’t pass on the deal as it would be the perfect accompaniment to a Sunday noon birthday meal for my 17-year-old son and 25-year-old daughter.

The Bread Man plied me with his offers and I quickly snatched up a loaf of Sicilian bread.

I also could not resist the flirtatious salesman. “If you like the bread, come back and give me a hug,” the Bread Man told me and another woman. “If you don’t like the bread, come back and I’ll give you a hug.” We all laughed.

And then he called me “young lady.” I haven’t been called “young lady” in, well, uh, a long time. That Bread Man…

Some time ago, while dining at a now-closed Faribault restaurant, my daughter and I were presented with bread and a saucer containing a mix like this. I wondered why the restaurant was serving chocolate with bread. Really. I'm not making this up. My daughter quickly explained that this was balsamic vinegar mixed with olive oil for bread dipping. Balsamic what? I am not used to such fancy food. When I bought the Bread Man's Sicilian bread, I also made my own dipping sauce with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. My only question: Are you supposed to swirl the two together? I am not a foodie. I need your expertise.

 

Olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar created the perfect, healthy dip for the Bread Man's Sicilian bread.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling