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Resurrecting a café … and its hometown

Students from Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota, helped find new owners for the Cup ’N’ Saucer Café in Sherburn. Photos provided by Bethany Lutheran College

Twenty-six students majoring in business at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota, had an unusual assignment during the past school year. They were asked to develop a plan for giving away a small-town restaurant to a “winner” committed to continuing the restaurant operation in Sherburn, Minnesota.

Students in a capstone course for business majors took on the unusual project and determined they would use an essay contest to determine the winner. That involved advertising and videos to attract interest, producing application forms, and studying financial and tax implications. Six different committees of students worked on the project, according to Shayne Bowyen, the Glen Taylor Chair of Business and Leadership at this Evangelical Lutheran Synod college.

There were nine qualified entrants in the essay contest. Entries included a résumé, an essay, and information about the entrant’s connection to small towns. Students debated the merits of the various entries and announced a winner in May.

This selection process would not have happened without the generosity of Gene and Carmen Scheppmann of Las Vegas, Nevada. Gene grew up in Sherburn, and often ate at the Cup ’N’ Saucer Café and Sweet Shoppe there. A successful contractor in Las Vegas, Gene had fond memories of patronizing the restaurant and he knew the family of Pat Hansen, operators of the café since the early 1950s. Hansen and her family weren’t able to continue running it on their own and had quietly closed the café in January of 2011. Gene wanted to help refurbish the building and get it open again; he even had restaurant operation in his background as his father had owned a restaurant at one time.

Finding the right owner

The Scheppmanns, who spend time each summer in southern Minnesota, started talking with the Hansens about what they had in mind. They invested $25,000 in renovations and reopened the café last fall, running it until they could find caring people to take it over. That is where the business students at Bethany Lutheran College came into the picture.

As part of a senior capstone project, Bethany Lutheran College students met with residents of Sherburn, Minnesota, to discuss plans to give away a local café for the benefit of the community. Bethany is an Evangelical Lutheran Synod school located in Mankato, Minnesota.

“This senior project was the most unique project I have ever been a part of as well as the most rewarding.”

The Scheppmanns and Hansens didn’t want to make money on the project; they just wanted someone to own the café who cared about keeping the place as a viable Sherburn business. That is how they decided to give the Cup ’N’ Saucer away.

Bethany students visited the potential project in Sherburn and came away ready to work. A senior in the class, Anne Huckaby, said the class was inspired by The Spitfire Grill, a movie about a small-town café given away through an essay contest. They decided to do the same.

Student Maggie LaPlante met with the Economic Development Authority and Sherburn’s mayor. Their input helped the students put together some marketing strategies for the revived café, including a goal of bringing back a gathering spot for both young and old in the community.

That objective has already seemingly been realized. Many members of the staff who had worked in the café years ago, many now in their 70s, have returned to work at the café.

Patrons at the revived Cup N Saucer Café in Sherburne, Minnesota

The lucky winners of the Sherburn café are Seth and Elizabeth Lintelman. They are delighted to be running the café, utilizing Seth’s skills as a chef, and they love the small community They took over with no mortgage and lots of community support that should help them in their plans to grow the business.

LaPlante took a wide-angle view of the process that resulted in new café owners: “It was so fun getting to know the people of Sherburn and [seeing] how passionate they were about making sure the Cup ’N’ Saucer was given to the right couple. Their passion and loyalty to the community inspired us to make sure our process and planning was going to give us the right candidate.

“An application says one thing about an applicant, but a short essay tells another. We wanted to understand why the applicants desired the café in their words as well as their experience. This senior project was the most unique project I have ever been a part of as well as the most rewarding.”

This re-birth of the small-town restaurant really started with the generosity of a humble man with Sherburn roots now living in Las Vegas … and a lot of involvement by students and faculty at Bethany.

Bethany Lutheran College is a coeducational liberal arts college founded in 1927. It is located at 700 Luther Drive in Mankato. The phone number is 507/344-7000. Its website is www.blc.edu.

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