One day several years ago, Mark Lynde was taking contractor estimates to replace the leaky roof on the century-old wooden building in Osseo that housed his family’s business, Lynde’s Restaurant and Catering. “One guy said it would cost $5,000,” Lynde recalls. “I asked him: ‘Don’t you have to measure the building?’ He said that’s what it would cost to bulldoze the place.”
The century-old wooden building on Highway 81—originally a combination grocery store and chicken coop—had housed the Munchkin Eatery when Mark’s parents, Chuck and Jan Lynde, bought the business in 1981. (Before that, it had been called the Brown Derby.) They ran Lynde’s Restaurant and Catering until they retired in 1995, and Mark and his wife, Cathy, bought the business.
For a restaurant with a hallowed tradition of cooking most dishes from scratch, starting from scratch with a new building sounded like a good idea. The Lyndes wound up purchasing adjacent land from a neighboring business, doing a land-swap with the county, and building a new 7,200-square-foot facility on 2.5 acres. The bulldozing finally happened last May, when the new place was ready to open.
The new structure houses the restaurant, catering business, and a landscape maintenance side business the family started back in the 1980s. The new place doubled seating from 78 to 160 seats, with a meeting room available for overflow diners.
While the building has changed, most of the faces remain the same, on both sides of the counter, Mark Lynde says, “In the old restaurant we probably knew 80 to 85 percent of our clientele on a first-name business. Now we know about 50 percent.” And they know some of their regulars’ habits REALLY well. “We know George is going to come in and sit at Counter 2, stool one, at five after 6 a.m. and order the pancakes with eggs on the side. They call it ‘their’ place,” says Lynde. “If we are busy, they get their own coffee.”
Home-cooked daily specials are the secret of the restaurant’s popularity, Mark says. For example, a full rack of ribs that would sell for $19.95 most places is only $11.95 ($12.95 for all you can eat.) “We’ll try something once and if people like it, do it again,” he says. “One of our dinner specials is sunfish—you can’t find that on a menu anywhere else.”
For the past 13 years, the man behind the menu and the grill has been Larry Poltiske, a 30-year veteran of the restaurant business. The variety and challenge of preparing specials that change daily makes his 50-hour work week palatable, he says. The restaurant’s “cooking from scratch” ethos means that Poltiske spends a number of hours on Mondays and Thursdays shopping for those fresh ingredients. “We don’t buy much prepared stuff,” says Poltiske, who has a staff of five cooks and six assistants.
He considers prime rib, barbecued ribs and rotisserie chicken among his specialties, with slow-cooking as the common denominator among those three customer favorites. When customers ask for recipes, he’s always willing to share, although he admits it’s difficult to “break those recipes down to household size. I get as close as I can.”
Lynde’s restaurant’s enduring popularity is no mystery to long-time customer Scott Regan, president of the former Osseo Bus Co. (now under the American Transportation corporate-umbrella). Although it’s a family-operated restaurant with a menu that changes daily, Lynde’s has something in common with McDonald’s and Burger King, Regan contends: “You know you’ll get the same quality of food each time. If you order a ham-and-cheese omelet, it will be the same every time. They have a certain standard.”
For some locals, the place has also achieved Cheers-like status. “There are a lot of blue collar-type guys who use the restaurant as their ‘bar.’ Rather than sit around drinking beer, they like to have a cup of coffee and give each other guff,” Regan says. When Larry the cook tries to slip a California medley into the menu instead of the usual corn and green beans, “They’ll give him some good-natured (grief).”
Keeping prices at family-friendly levels is another reason for Lynde's longstanding popularity in the community, Mark says. He recounts a conversation with one meat salesman who suggested fair-market value pricing of $24.95 for filet mignon. "I told the chef I don't want steak on the menu that costs more than $20. So we dropped the price to $19.95 and our profit is still seven bucks which is a dollar more than we make on pasta."
Affordability is only part of a time-tested credo the family business continues to follow with pride. "We've always followed three rules: fast and efficient service, good, quality food served with a smile and fair pricing," Poltiske says.
It's a deceptively simple formula that's as timeless as steak and apple pie.