Thursday, October 22, 2020

Husker Du? Part II of Otto Evenson's Restaurant

Long before "husker du?" referred to a rock band, it was a phrase used by many Scandinavians.  "Husker du?" asks... do you remember?  Although I remember my grandparents and the town of Spring Grove, I don't personally remember the restaurant. It closed before my time. Still, it has been a rich topic of conversation with family members as I've asked... husker du?  Here are some of our stories.

 Otto's business evolved over its 40-year lifetime. Below is a photo showing Otto Evenson's Cafe in the early 1900s. 

By the time my dad was four or five years old, serving as the batboy for the the Spring Grove Baseball team as seen in this photo circa 1908, you can see at least one team member and possibly several are sponsored by Otto Evenson's Restaurant. No longer a cafe, it was now a restaurant. When I imagine sewing all those letters on a shirt, I have to laugh. By current standards we might name the restaurant Otto's, or Otto's and Etta's... and the name would be embroidered or printed on by machine. Not so easy in 1908.

Anyway, that's my dad, Emil Evenson, in front of my Grandpa Otto. Otto loved sports, but especially baseball. He often listened to games on the radio and attended local games whenever he could. Fact: The first World Series was played in 1903. Baseball was big...

Spring Grove was never big, but in the early 1900's it had something of a heyday. It had a baseball team, an opera house and it also hosted Chautauqua assemblies. I was pleased to learn that Spring Grove also had it's own cartoonist, Peter J. Rosendahl, who included Otto in some of his cartoons. This one shows a Totning festival... folks from the Toten area of Norway celebrating their heritage. Otto was a Totning, and you can see him in the middle right of the cartoon, standing next to barrels labelled Flatbrød and Sur Melk.  Flatbrød is a traditional Norwegian unleavened bread that has a long history, a staple food for shepherds, peasants and Vikings. The original ingredients were barley flour, salt and water, although over time every family made their own variations on this theme. It is served with just about anything, often fish and potatoes topped with sour cream. Otto may have sold it as a light meal, or as a sweet treat with berries and sour cream or "sur melk." From what I can gather, Norwegians love milk, cream, cheese, and butter... and more is better.

Speaking of dairy products, Grandpa always served ice cream at his soda fountain and with his desserts. The grandkids loved it! Talking about ice cream brought up a story about Grandpa Otto and an ice cream salesman. In the early '40s when money was tight, the Dolly Madison ice cream supplier came to the restaurant and took pains to show Grandpa how to save money by serving a scoop of ice cream that looked full and round, but was actually hollow. Grandpa watched, becoming more and more irate as the salesman proceeded. Otto Evenson's Restaurant was known to serve a good honest meal. How dare someone suggest he cheat his customers out of a full scoop of ice cream? He couldn't stand for such a thing! Otto took the salesman by the neck... and I remember that Grandpa had big strong hands... and ushered him out of his restaurant.  No trickery! Otto would serve a full scoop!

Located at Front and Main streets in downtown La Crosse, the Dolly Madison Dairy began in 1919 as the Tri-State Ice Cream Corp., a company formed from two earlier companies.

In 1939, the company’s name became Dolly Madison, in honor of President James Madison’s wife, Dolley, who was the first person to serve ice cream in the White House. In the 1970s the company became part of Marigold Foods and later was absorbed by Kemp's.

That's my post for today. If you missed the first post about Otto's Restaurant, you can find it here.  I'll share more about Otto and the restaurant in the future. Don't miss it, I've saved some of the funniest stories just for you.

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