A trip back in time
The Off Beats, an ensemble of local viola players, provided musical entertainment. Staff photo by Joni Hubred
The word came up over and over again in conversations at the Steele County History Center Friday, as customers and staff remembered Jerry’s Supper Club.
Downtown Owatonna's version of “Cheers”–where everybody knows your name–closed in 2009 and is now part of a redevelopment project in the 200 block of north Cedar Avenue. But much of its atmosphere came to life during the fundraising dinner.
From a menu that included Jerry’s famous garlic bread to clown paintings and ceramic figurines, guests got a chance to relive the experience of a special night out. They also heard from former employees, who shared their memories during a panel discussion.
The best part of waitressing at Jerry’s for Audrey Bohlman was making good friends.
“It was a very nice place,” she said. “The people were just wonderful.”
Sharon Soukup started working at Jerry’s in 1964, as a young mother with a 1-year-old child.
“I retired when Jerry’s closed in 2009, and I was at that time a grandmother of 10,” she said.
Bohlman was also a young mother when she started in 1962 and worked the last night the restaurant was open.
“It was a really busy night,” she said. “Everybody was using their gift certificates.”
Don Lagas recalled applying to work as a busboy at Jerry’s, only to hear nothing back from owner Jerry Cashman. Unfortunately, shortly after Lagas applied, Cashman passed away, having suffered a heart attack.
“I was new in town and didn’t read the paper, so I didn’t know Jerry had died,” he said.
Lagas was eventually hired and worked until leaving for OTC Tools, where he worked for 39 years. He still has fond memories of Jerry’s as a “wonderful experience. I met a lot of wonderful people.”
Doug Wanous shared memories from his mother, Irene, who was one of “Jerry’s girls” for 50 years. Diagnosed with COVID-19, she was unable to attend the event.
As children, Wanous said, “We saw the family that Jerry’s was all about.” His mother remembers the restaurant was originally a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, with the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) meeting upstairs.
“Mom’s starting wage was 70 cents an hour,” Doug Wanous said. “She took home 10 bucks her first day and thought she was the richest person in the world.”
Soukup said a steak dinner back then cost $1.95, while a lobster dinner went for $3.95. Along with the entrée, that included tomato juice, salad, and dessert.
The supper club was a place for a nice evening out, the panelists agreed. Couples would get dressed up and hire a babysitter for a night at Jerry’s. Celebrity guests over the years included former U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey; Twins baseball legends Harmon Killebrew, Frank Viola, and Kirby Puckett; and celebrities Art Linkletter and Jesse Ventura.
Jerry’s was the place to go for special occasions, like birthdays and anniversaries. Leslea Partridge, daughter of former State Rep. Dean Hartle, remembers spending time there on election nights.
“That’s where his campaign gathered to watch the returns, back when it was fun,” she said.
Everyone acknowledged that times have changed since Jerry’s Supper Club opened its doors on Oct. 10, 1960.
These days, Soukup said, families are more likely to share a dinner out. It’s hard to find places with the kind of atmosphere patrons enjoyed at Jerry’s.
“It’s the end of an era,” she said.