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Warm memories on icy Mille Lacs

Couple ran pioneering food truck business, among other adventures

By Jennie Zeitler

Adrian Praught and his wife, Mona, of Brainerd, provided hot coffee and homemade sandwiches for cold ice anglers on Mille Lacs Lake during one fantastic winter adventure in 1960. Adrian believes they offered the very first food truck in the area, and a rare one that delivered on the lake. It was one of many adventures they would have together.

Mona and her husband, Adrian (pictured left) ran this pioneering food truck endeavor for just one winter. It was one of many adventures for the Brainerd couple. They later bought a cafe, ran a dairy operation and ran a supper club, among other things. Contributed photo

Adrian grew up on a farm and joined the Marines at age 17 (with his parents signing for him) so he could go to Korea. In 1958, he met Mona at a dance hall in St. Cloud, owned by Mona’s sister and brother-in-law. Adrian and Mona married in 1959. They lived in Anoka and he worked in construction in the Twin Cities. When he got laid off that first winter, they were looking for something to do and the food and fishing combination popped into their minds.

“I’d always loved fishing on Mille Lacs Lake and had a fish house on Wigwam Bay with my two brothers,” Adrian remembered. “I talked Mona into buying a food truck. We painted ‘Mona’s Coffee Jug’ on both sides.”

They acquired stainless coffee containers. Armed with the basics, they went to Adrian’s parents’ cabin on the lake on Friday evenings. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, they drove into Onamia to pick up donuts and rolls. They made the coffee and sandwiches together.

“We had an old school bell that we got at a sale somewhere,” said Adrian. “It was a big old thing.”

After they drove out on the lake, Mona opened up the truck window and rang the bell.

“It wasn’t a great big business, but we sold stuff,” Adrian said with a smile.

They found that they were required to pay 50 cents or a dollar to each resort when using their roads to drive to the lake.

Mona stands next to one of the first food trucks in Minnesota. Mona’s Coffee Jug served coffee, donuts and sandwiches to ice anglers on Lake Mille Lacs during the winter of 1960. Contributed photo

“So we thought we would drive across the ice, but then we were splashing through water,” he said. “We decided to pay the fee and be safe.”

At night, they slept in their fish house.

“We went home Sunday afternoons with $60, which was a week’s pay,” Adrian said. “We each took home our limit of walleyes. We were having a good time. It was a lot of fun doing it.”

That enterprise lasted only that one winter, an adventure they recalled fondly for the rest of their lives. Mona was pregnant with their first child and they moved on to do other things. Mona passed away this past November due to injuries suffered in a car accident. But Adrian has treasured memories of the time they spent together and the adventures they went on over several decades.

For a time, he and Mona had a farm near Monticello, not too far from the farm near Albertville, where he grew up. They raised beef cattle and grew corn and hay, like Adrian’s brother.

During those four years, Adrian still worked in the Twin Cities. That is until he and Mona bought a closed café in Onamia.

“We called it Adrian’s Café. We cleaned it up, refurbished it and added on. We turned a garage into a dining room,” he said.

The hashbrowns at Adrian’s was their most popular item. Adrian had learned how to make top-notch hash browns at a previous job, and the experience stood him in good stead.

More than 25 years later, Adrian ran into former sheriff Stub Strehlow, a loyal café customer. Mr. Strehlow’s memory was fading, but he took one look at Adrian and said, “Hashbrowns!”

Adrian Praught with his “food truck”. Contributed photo

There was a period of time when several bad checks came through the café and Adrian let the waitress know that there would be absolutely no checks accepted from anyone. One day after serving a table of eight, she told Adrian that the person wanting to settle the tab was the state Attorney General.

“We let him pay by check,” Adrian laughed.

By that time, the Praughts had five sons and one daughter. He gives Mona all the credit.

“She was something. She just amazed me,” he said. “She would go along with almost anything.”

They worked hard together but they had a lot of fun doing it. After they sold the café, a friend told them about a farm outside town. They started milking cows.

“I swore I never would, but the boys wanted to,” said Adrian. “At least, they wanted to until they started doing it.”

During the 14 years they had that farm, they also grew and sold sod. That’s how they ended up with the name “Sodbusters” for their supper club.

Their next venture was a supper club located one mile north of Onamia.

Adrian today. Contributed photo

“We turned our big machine shed and the cow barn into the supper club,” Adrian said.

There was a large bar. The facility had showers for campers. They hosted wedding receptions, a prom, and a local bank’s annual Christmas party.

They also maintained a driving range and a softball field. Two seed companies brought busloads of people to Sodbusters for sales meetings.

“We had a turtle feed buffet one time. We got 50-100 pounds of turtle meat,” said Adrian. “It was surprising how many people had never tasted turtle, but they liked it.”

Adrian sums up the adventures he and Mona lived with the words, “We had a wonderful life.”

Adrian would like to reminisce with other Mille Lacs fishermen or people from the area who remember those days. To contact him, mail cards or letters to Adrian Praught, 200 Buffalo Hills Lane Apt. 45, Brainerd, MN 56401.

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