Serving up BrownsdalePublished 1:01pm Monday, March 12, 2012
Big risk pays off for Langtry Cafe owners
This story originally appeared in Progress 2012. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald.
The days of the small-town cafe are not dead.
Ask Steve and Cheryl Nagel, owners of Langtry Cafe in Brownsdale. They know.
Amidst the demise of several Brownsdale businesses, the Nagels — who moved there from the Twin Cities metro area — opened their cafe on Feb. 28, 2011. One year later, that big risk continues to pay off.
“Every month has been a little bit better,” Steve said. “December was huge.”
It’s not surprising that the Nagels have landed a regular customer base of local farmers and townsfolk.
“Many of them come in every day of the week,” Cheryl said. “We have six-day-a-week customers.”
Perhaps it is surprising, however, that they have landed a regular customer base from places as far as Spring Valley, Rochester, Byron, Albert Lea and elsewhere. Despite a decline in population in Brownsdale, Langtry has steadily grown — from five employees to 12 and from open on weekdays only to being packed on the weekends.
“It does your heart good to see the same people coming back,” Cheryl said.
Last summer the Nagels began opening for Friday and Saturday evening dinners and added alcohol to the menu, as well. Now, guests better call for reservations if they want seats and meals like prime rib, barbecued ribs or batter-fried shrimp. But it’s not as if locals and regulars are surprised when out-of-towners walk though the doors, either.
“People don’t stop talking and turn their heads when someone walks in here,” Steve said.
Despite the continuous upswing in business, the Nagels hit some roadblocks along the way. A sewer problem forced them to close for more than a week, which fostered some rumors among townsfolk about Langtry Cafe closing. But the Nagels saw the problem as an opportunity. The setback wasn’t necessarily a blessing in disguise, but it allowed the Nagels to fully decorate their private dining room — the gallery, as some call it.
“I wanted a room where you could hang a Salvador Dali next to a farm scene from the 1800s and make it work,” Steve said.
The Nagels achieved that look with a little help from another local antique store. Now the two businesses work together. The gallery isn’t just decorated. Its items are for sale through the antique store, kind of like consignment. The new items only add to the atmosphere the Nagels were trying to create throughout the entire building, with old pictures, a gun hanging from the wall, toy tractors and trucks and more.
“Now people are asking to sit in there,” Steve said about the gallery.
As interest in the gallery grew, the Nagels noticed Brownsdale received a little more traffic and business. Another antique store opened in town, and the existing antique stores seem to have more consistent hours.
The scene in Brownsdale is different than elsewhere, though.
Steve and Cheryl took a winter vacation in the south and drove back roads through small towns. They didn’t notice any small-town cafe’s like theirs.
“I think the thing is, once a town loses a cafe, it’s done,” Steve said.
However, Brownsdale may be the exception. The Nagels opened their business in the same building just months after the previous restaurant closed. Thus far, Langtry has exceeded their expectations.
“The vision of what is possible has changed,” Steve said.
That may be true, as a group of men bought what was formerly the Keg Bar across the street, renovated it and renamed it the Frontier Lounge. Now Brownsdale’s main drag, Mill Street, has a little more traffic and a little more appeal.
“There are a lot more people moving around,” Steve said.
Like a lot of business owners, Steve and Cheryl spend most of their time at their business. They are open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Though that calls for 80-hour weeks and plenty of time standing over a hot grill, Steve won’t take the trade off of going back to the Twin Cities. He has a small town to support.
“It’s just peaceful out here,” he said.