Landmark diner, truck stop to close

Published 11:58 pm Friday, December 6, 2013

Watts Cooking, a landmark in Austin alongside Interestate 90, will close its doors at year's end after 25 years of business. -- Eric Johnson/

Watts Cooking, a landmark in Austin alongside Interestate 90, will close its doors at year’s end after 25 years of business. It will also mark the first time in 65 years that there won’t be a Mower County restaurant owned or operated by a member of the Watts family. — Eric Johnson/

Watts Cookin’ will shut down Dec. 31 after 25 years

Kermit Watts says it’s been a tremendous run for his full-service diner and truck stop, Watts Cookin’, but after 25 years he’s calling it quits.

Watts said Friday he will close his 24-hours-per-day, 365-days-per-year business for the first and last time at 11 p.m. on Dec. 31. Watts Cookin’, which has 45 employees, has been open since 1988.

The decision did not come easily, Watts said, and ultimately came down to expenses.

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“As a man who has been here 25 years, and with some employees here 25 years with me, I feel heartbroken that 45 jobs will disappear,” he said. “I feel bad and sad that many loyal customers will lose their favorite place to eat.”

Watts said business has been good, as it has been busy in the restaurant, the convenience store and at the diesel station. However, he said, earlier this year the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency required him to make nearly $200,000 in improvements after a small diesel leak. That, and road construction near his business for the past four years forced his hand, as many travelers don’t stop in construction.

“We’ve had a great staff, and I can’t express how good I feel about the loyalty of our customers,” Watts said.

Watts said he or a member of his family has operated a restaurant in Mower County for the last 65 years. His parents bought Lansing Corners in 1947 and kept it through 1979, and his brother and dad ran Bob’s Drive-In from 1958 to 1962. He, his brother and dad ran the Plaza Restaurant from 1962 to 1975, his brother ran The Travel Inn in LeRoy from about 1972 through 2003, and he owned the Peppermill Restaurant in Austin from 1984 to 1989.

“We have a long family history in Mower County and the city of Austin,” Watts said.

He bought Watts Cookin’ in 1988, ran it for several years with a business partner, and became sole owner in 1998. The diner/truck stop has seen many changes over the years, most recently in March 2013 with new truck stop showers, bathrooms and laundry area, and in June 2012 with a remodel of its dining room and bar area.

There’s a chance the property may not be closed for long.

Watts said he has several people interested in buying the truck stop and restaurant.