Dexter’s own little Oasis

Published 6:00 am Thursday, August 31, 2017

To paraphrase singer and songwriter Billy Joel, “It’s 11:30 on a Wednesday and the regular crowd shuffles in. They’ve come to The Oasis, one of the few places to get food in Dexter, Minn.”

Although lunch and dinner are the peak hours at The Oasis, regularscome and go throughout the day in this small town establishment in the heart of Dexter’s downtown.

Outside the building, a Bud Light sign and a Minnesota Vikings 2017 season schedule greet visitors. Inside, the atmosphere is subdued, a subtle tribute to the days when it was only a bar. A sign off to the side lists the bar rules:

Email newsletter signup

“1. Bartender is always right.

“2. If bartender is wrong, see rule #1.”

At the bar was regular Ernie Kirkpatrick, a carpenter whose father owned the building before it became The Oasis in 1984.

The Oasis in downtown Dexter, Minnesota. Michael Stoll/

“I grew up in this area and this has always been a spot for me,” Kirkpatrick said.

As a kid, he used to come by the building to get a Pepsi and peanuts.

“There was a guy named Bertie Wicks who was a farmer and he’d buy me my Pepsi and my peanuts,” he recalled. “When dad owned it, it was more of a drinking establishment. Now it’s more of a family restaurant.”

Joining Kirkpatrick at The Oasis was co-worker Matthew Mcmahan.

“[The Oasis] has really good homemade food that is really cheap and reasonable,” he said. “You don’t get a lot of places like this anymore. Little hole-in-the-wall places like this are really hard to find.”

The Oasis has been owned nearly three years by husband and wife Randy and Nikki Breitbarth, and Randy’s father, Dan Breitbarth.

At The Oasis in Dexter, the rules are very simple.

“My husband always wanted to run a bar and grill,” Nikki said. “He’s always worked in one. His dad was always interested in it. I grew up in Dexter and my grandpa used to own it for 30 years before we bought it.”

As Nikki talked, regular Bob Meade entered The Oasis with his daughter, Rose Meade, and his aunt Joleen Meade. Nikki took their orders, asking if Bob would have “the usual.”

Bob and Rose live in Elkton, while Joleen lives in Dexter, where she worked as the local beautician for 55 years.

“I come here every now and then,” Joleen said of The Oasis. “I play cards here on Tuesday afternoons. A bunch of us come and play 500.”

Bob Meade, on the other hand, comes more frequently.

“I’ve been coming as long as I can remember, once or twice a week,” he said. “I enjoy the small town camaraderie. This place brings in a lot of locals.”

Oasis regular Bob Meade prepares to eat biscuits and gravy while Rose Meade (top left) and Joleen Meade eat pancakes. Photos by Michael Stoll/

“I come whenever [Bob] lets me,” Rose said with a laugh. “I remember playing pool here when I was a little girl.”

Nikki brought out their breakfast orders; Bob’s usual order of biscuits and gravy (although Bob, among others, will tell you these biscuits and gravy are anything but  “usual”) and pancakes the size of your head for Rose and Joleen.

In the kitchen, Cathy Braaten prepared more orders.

“We make things homemade from scratch,” she said. “We don’t like to use the can.”

Braaten worked in kitchens at other establishments before starting at The Oasis in September, the same time they began serving breakfast. For her, the difference between a small local place versus a national chain is night and day.

“I’d much rather work at a place like this,” she said. “It’s more personal with your bosses and the other employees. Randy and Nikki are good people to work for.”

For Braaten, The Oasis is an integral part of Dexter.

Oasis co-owner Nikki Breitbarth talks with regular customer Norman “Speedy” Mathews.

“I think it means a lot to have a local restaurant that’s this good that brings people in from all over the area,” she said. “I think it helps the town a lot.”

Back in the bar, another regular came through the door, 88-year-old Korean War veteran Norman Mathews, whom Nikki affectionately calls “Speedy.” Mathews said he comes to The Oasis every day.

“People to talk to keep me coming back,” he said. “It’s a good eating place and its well-established. There are a lot of people to talk to.”

Mathews said dances used to be held at the building long before The Oasis opened. He said that part of the building was added on using lumber from the train depot that was torn down after the train left town.

Despite the years and changes, The Oasis is still going strong. Locals and regulars continue filling its seats to get a burger, a steak sandwich, the daily special, or attending one of their events, like the Friday fish fry where, during Lent, they sell 80 to 90 pounds of fish a night.

“I think it is a nice local place where people can go to get good food and good beer,” Nikki said. “It’s nice seeing all of the locals come in and visiting with them.”