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‘So many memories’

The history of the iconic Wayside Inn

By Patricia Buschette

The building, first known as The Wayside Inn, assumed many identities over the years as subsequent owners of the iconic barn structure opened restaurants and bars over the decades. The legendary structure along Highway 212 between Renville and Sacred Heart, served the public under a variety of unique businesses dating back nearly 90 years ago.

These two were the inspiration for years of succeeding businesses on the site of their Wayside Inn. Contributed from the Jevne photo collection.

From the beginning, the site was a distinctive part of the social landscape. Owned by Carl and Ella Jevne, the driving spirit of the Wayside Inn was Ella Gustavson Jevne. The business was originally a vegetable market, which opened in 1934 and operated out of a tool shed that had been moved close to the highway. Here, they sold vegetables, fruits, chickens, and turkeys.

It was the paving of Highway 212 that encouraged them to expand their business to the enterprise known as The Wayside Inn. They kept the business open day and night, sleeping on a couch behind the counter. In 1937-1938, the barn was moved in and remodeled. There was an open house in the old tool shed where beer was served in tin cups.

The expanded business provided not only gas, but shelves of groceries, beer, or an ice cream cone. It was a friendly place where neighbors could meet; a place to gather and socialize. Children carefully chose candy from the huge glass showcases, while adults enjoyed a beer and good conversation. Everyone called it “Ella’s.” Ice cream was sold in hand-packed containers. Many said, that no one could pack more ice cream in a quart container than Ella Jevne.

Carl and Ella Jevne, in 1935, with their children, Mildred, Calvin, and Hazel, as they posed in front of the tool shed that housed their produce for sale. The Jevnes were the orignal owners of Wayside Inn. Contributed from the Jevne photo collection.

The Jevne children, Mildred, Calvin, and Hazel, grew up in the tin shed and then the remodeled barn. At an early age they were allowed to pump gas, as much as three or four gallons at a time.

It was during the war years that some complained about the Jevnes selling beer. An election was held, and out of 306 voters, the most that had ever voted in Sacred Heart Township at that time, there were 292 votes in favor of selling 3.2 beer.

The adventure of the Wayside Inn continued until April of 1965 when it was sold to Oliver and Florence Dahl as Dahl’s Wayside Inn, or more commonly known as Ole’s. Much of the culture remained the same as the business provided a source for last minute grocery needs, or a place for families to gather on a Sunday afternoon to share good conversation.

Two gas pumps provided gas for the convenience of the motoring public, a service that could be aggravating when, as Ole would frequently complain, “They were jumping on the bell at 6:00 in the morning!”

There was a fire and after renovation, it was reopened as a supper club and continued until November 1972.

Curt Haroldson, opened up the restaurant known as Ichabod’s. Beryl Perry of rural Renville remembered working there. “I was just a waitress at Ichabod’s,” she said. “It was a regular short-order restaurant; beer and BYOB.”

Folks remembered Curt as an owner who enjoyed socializing with guests, and helped occasionally when busy.

“The restaurant had no closing time so it was a gathering place after local basketball games,” Beryl said. “Needless to say, I got home very late some nights.”

Ron Ryan and Rick Ryan opened up Cowtown U.S.A in April of 1975. It was a family affair as their sister Kathy worked as a waitress for several years. The carpeting on the walls, the rental boxes to lock your own liquor bottle, were remembered features of the restaurant.

The Wayside Inn building and property in 1951. The tool shed that housed their produce business was attached to the barn that had been moved in to become their restaurant, grocery store, and gas station. Contributed from the Jevne photo collection.

Lois Lapolice became the next business owner in the decades long series of enterprises. “I bought the restaurant from Curt Haroldson. In 1981, I remodeled it and opened it as the Ranch House. I had to add a lot of appliances to the kitchen because it wasn’t set up to handle the type of supper club dinners I was going to serve. I also added a new room on to the back to have more space for freezers, cooler, and storage. I ran it, and Lowell Abbas worked for me as chef.

‘We were busy from the day we opened.” Lois said. “We had a lot of wonderful customers that came every week. We had a full dinner menu and salad bar with all the freshly made salads.

Lois gave a great deal of credit to her employees. “I had wonderful employees that I could always count on to do a good job. Lowell took pride in everything he served.”

Lois had taken on the personal responsibility of cleaning and making of salads by day, and then working at night.

“I decided by then my kids were growing up so fast that I wanted to spend more time with them before they graduated. I still worked there at night, which I enjoyed.”

In October of 1985, Lois sold the restaurant to William Cobleigh from Redwood Falls. She moved to Florida, and spends summers with her daughter in Kenosha, Wisc.

Undated photograph of The Ranch House. Photo courtesy of the Abbas family.

Lowell and Charlette Abbas bought the restaurant in 1988, operating it as the Ranch House Supper Club. They then enlisted Deb Aalderks to redesign the inside. Deb looked over the Abbas farm, and walked through old buildings looking for antique items to decorate.

Lowell decorated for every holiday including the walls, ceilings and flowers on the tables. Every customer’s birthday or anniversary was celebrated with a hostess cupcake and candle. He would go in the mornings to put his famous ribs in the oven.

The Abbases’ daughter Christa started as a dishwasher before she was able to drive. At 18, she was able to hostess and run the register. “I loved working up front! My younger sister and brother also worked there, too.”

Patrons included organizations that would hold meetings there, including various card clubs and the weekly Wednesday Night Ladies group. Christa reminisced about the years her parents owned the restaurant.

“On a couple different occasions, the Ranch House would have overnight guests during a snowstorm. On a good Friday or Saturday night, we served over 100 people. On a good Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday night, 50 were served. Toward the end of the Ranch House era, the numbers dwindled.

Phil Haen of Renville remembered going there frequently as a young boy with his parents.

“I remember everyone carried their cases with their liquor bottles . . . I remember the carpeted walls, and there were always the regulars.” He shares a memory with many others when he reflected, “I wish I could find a restaurant that had a salad bar like they had.”

1967 business ad for Dahl’s Wayside Inn placed in Renville High School’s annual, The Renvillon. Photo courtesy of Renville County Historical Society and Museum

However, Phil’s most memorable experience was his first date at the Ranch House with Shari, his wife of 25 years. Visits to The Ranch House continued, and Phil explained, “Our daughter Maddie, who was born in 2002, was not a week old and we brought her to the Ranch House.”

“Our family was part of the restaurant’s history for nearly 30 years,” Christa said. “There were great years, and there were years when the business struggled. Through it all though, the most important part of the Ranch House was the true small-town community support and family-atmosphere where you were sure to know someone, have a great time and enjoy savory food.”

Pat Ashburn of Sacred Heart was employed as a hostess. “People came from all over including Willmar, Redwood Falls, Maynard, as well as Renville and Sacred Heart. The ribs were the most popular, and were the best around.” She described the Ranch House as a family restaurant with a nice atmosphere that families could come and enjoy a nice dinner.

“The Ranch House was a really nice and fun place to work,” Pat said, “although it could get really hectic at times trying to find everyone a place to dine. The people were so nice and so much fun to work with; I enjoyed it all.”

Pat was a part of the Ranch House adventure from 1997 until it closed in 2005. “I was so sorry to see it close,” she said.

The familiar barn situated next to Highway 212 that served as the site of many entrepreneurial efforts is gone, but its memory remains with many who enjoyed its hospitality.

On November 29, 2022, the Renville Fire Department conducted a training burn that had been planned earlier in the summer, and the old barn was a memory. Drone photo by Bill Sietsema

Christa Abbas Luna reminisced, “So many ribs eaten. So many memories made. So many lessons learned. So many lives impacted.” She added, “Though she was just a building, she represented many years of my life. Knowing some familiar faces were there helping her come down, was comforting.”

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