The best secrets last the longest. For those who have figured it out, clandestine comings and goings are required lest everyone discover the enormous contentment of a familiar place called Dehn’s Country Manor.
Surrounded by open space along Fernbrook Lane, across from the Elm Creek Park Reserve, Dehn’s first opened in 1958, the pastime of farming brothers who needed something to do during the winter. Allen, his wife Phyllis and Willard Dehn opened the doors, with Willard’s wife Mary at the grill. “Everyone told them ‘No, you’re crazy; the place is in the middle of nowhere,’” says Mike Dehn, Allen’s son.
It wasn’t perfect, but it took off right away. Customers loved the smoked pork ribs—so tender they fall off the bone before you can you lift them to your mouth. Platters were piled high with heaps of hashed browns, and the sirloin quickly became a favorite.
The brothers originally served beef from their own stock along with eggs and chickens from local farms. Common sense told them that well-cared-for animals made good meat. The same goes with produce, like potatoes, which start whole in Dehn’s kitchen and are transformed into golden hashed browns.
The open dining room, with its carpeting and wood paneling, seats 150 people. You can call across the room to a friend, or to a neighbor sitting at one of the eight bar stools.
One of those acquaintances might be Chief of Police of Dayton (Minn.) Richard Pietrzak, who’s eaten at Dehn’s three times a week since 2003. “The people are nice, and the food is consistently good,” he assures. His favorite remains the chopped sirloin hash with eggs, cheese and salsa.
Mike Dehn has been around a long time, too. “As soon as you were tall enough to reach the spray hose, you could start washing dishes,” he remembers. Brothers, sisters and cousins worked together at Dehn’s for years. Though the family still farms, the businesses are now two different entities—Willard took over the farm and Allen continued with the restaurant. Management was eventually passed down to Mike and his sister Terri Dehn McCarthy. “Dad is still here every morning, opening the place up,” says Mike. “Ten years ago we tried to get him to retire—he wasn’t interested.”
Little else has changed at Dehn’s. Terri’s husband, Shawne McCarthy, now serves as kitchen manager and is responsible for the tasty cream soups and french toast made from apple fritter bread. The menu remains familiar, too. “A customer who’d been away for 15 years came in one day and was looking at the specials sheet. We had sweet potato fries listed,” Mike recalls. “She went on and on, saying, ‘No! Dehn’s cannot have sweet potato fries. It’s too newfangled,’” he laughs. “We were busting a gut over that.”
According to Mike, the restaurant’s ongoing success is due, in no small part, to a loyal staff that has acted like one big family. A server who started with dishes 35 years ago works beside the “newbie” who began serving in 1980. Forty-year veteran cook Jim Johnson says it’s the people that keep him here. “I see the same customers most of the time and can almost always tell whose order it is I’m making,” he says.
That consistency has created more than 50 years of great food and contentment. “The thing that’s cool is when couples who had their rehearsal dinner here are back for their 40th anniversary party,” muses Mike.
As restaurants come and go all around Maple Grove, history says Mike will still be greeting loyal customers and making sure their food lives up to quality built by five decades and two generations of family experience. And generation No. 3 could be around the corner. “My sister’s kids, at ages 4 and 6, are already wanting to know what goes on—playing waitress,” Mike says. The question is: How long can they keep the secret?
Favorites from the menu:
Barbeque Rib Dinner $ 15.95
Choice Sirloin Dinner $15.95
Hamburger and Fries $ 6.99
Homemade Soup $3.50/cup or $4.50/bowl
Hash Browns $3.20