Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

That Lavender Inn billboard needs to go March 9, 2015

AWHILE AGO, A READER tipped me off to an outdated billboard along Interstate 35 bypassing Faribault.

Finally, on purpose, I traveled that stretch of interstate specifically to see this billboard off the northbound lanes:

Not the best photo, but snapped at interstate speed passing by.

Not the best photo, but snapped at interstate speed passing by.

Now imagine you’re a traveler. You’re hungry. You see the sign for the Lavender Inn Restaurant. And bonus, there’s an art gallery. So you take Exit 59.

But then you can’t find the darned place. You see a bank and a liquor store, restaurants, hotels and other businesses in the area, even a housing development. But the Lavender Inn? Nope. Not even along Lavender Drive.

By this time you are frustrated, not to mention hungry and disappointed. You had your heart set on dining at the Lavender and perusing art.

I wonder how many times this scenario has happened. The Lavender Inn has been closed for a long time, although I can’t find the precise date of closure.

But in January 2003, long-time sole owners Gaylen and Bebe Jensen, who opened the eatery first as a drive-in in June 1960, sold the property to investors. Eventually, the restaurant, which was, indeed, painted a distinct lavender hue, was torn down, replaced by business and housing developments.

Why, then, does the billboard remain posted along Interstate 35? Its presence misleads travelers.

For those of us who remember the Lavender, though, the sign jars memories of Faribault’s finest dining establishment. I ate here perhaps less than a dozen times in a restaurant that evolved into a supper club. Remember supper clubs? Folks drove from all over to dine here on Saturday evenings and on Sundays after church.

The Lavender had its regulars, including Rotarians who met here monthly. For My husband and me, this marked a place to celebrate on the rarest of special occasions given the cost of a meal in this fancy setting.

I remember the gallery rich in gilded frames and fine art and big game trophy animals from Gaylen Jensen’s African safari hunts. It all seemed rather foreign to me. And perhaps therein was part of the appeal, along with cloth napkins.

In the digital archives of Northfield’s Carleton College I found a KYMN radio jingle for the Lavender Inn, advertised as “a portrait in fine dining…an original in dining.” It’s worth a listen (click here).

Perhaps the Lavender Inn roadside ad ought to be archived somewhere as an important part of Faribault’s restaurant history. And then replace the sign with an attention-grabbing billboard welcoming visitors to Faribault’s historic downtown.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling