ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
After two weeks of remodeling a former Chinese restaurant on South Main in Hillsboro, Karl and Arlene Trudell changed the venue to family-style food and opened Arlene’s Family Restaurant on Nov. 9.
“My motto in restaurants has always been-quality food, with quality service, at a fair price,” Karl said. “I think we serve a good quantity of food, too. We give them large portions, and they walk out of here stuffed.”
Married for seven years and both in their 40s, the couple have two children, Vanessa, 5, and Quinton, 3.
Karl’s heritage is Sioux Indian, although he was adopted as a child and raised by non-Indian parents.
“Food has always been my passion, ever since I was young,” Karl said.
As a child learning to cook from his adopted mother, Karl was “amazed” that her recipes were all in her head and not written down.
“I do the same thing she did,” Karl said. “I do everything to taste. If it meets my taste, then I’ll serve it.”
Arlene grew up in Hillsboro and her father-Jonas Giesbrecht- still lives on the family farm. Mom Justina has died, but she taught her young daughter how to cook when growing up.
“Mom did everything from scratch,” Arlene said.
Both Karl and Arlene have restaurant experience. Arlene has worked in the nursing-home cafeteria setting in the past, and Karl has managed restaurants in North Dakota, Colorado and Montana.
But this is their first time to own their own restaurant.
While visiting family this year, the couple noticed the former China Buffet was closed and called the owner of the building to see about renting it. But the leasing deal hinged on finding a house for their family of four.
Two weeks after inquiring about the retail space, the couple moved into their Hillsboro home Oct. 22.
Although Arlene wanted to include Karl’s name, he persuaded her to call their new place Arlene’s Family Restaurant.
“Arlene’s just sounds appealing,” Karl said. “Since we specialize in home-cooked food, Arlene’s just sounds like a home-cooking place.”
Remodeling included “cleaning, painting and chasing after equipment,” Karl said about preparations to open early November.
Having a clean restaurant, from front to back, is important, he said.
“I specialize in making sure this place is spotless clean.”
During his initial visit, the health inspector gave the new restaurateurs a good review.
“He said, ‘This has got to be the cleanest restaurant I’ve ever seen,'” Karl said.
The inspector planned a follow- up visit as part of his routine duties soon after his first inspection and then wouldn’t be back again for another year, Karl said.
“I said, ‘When you come back in another year, you’ll see it’s still just as clean.’ Every day, we clean that grill, and it shines.”
Employee Randy Herbel shares cooking duties with Karl and Arlene. Arriving sometime between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., Arlene takes the morning and early afternoon shifts.
“She’s supposed to go home by 3 p.m.” Karl said. “But she hasn’t been getting out of here until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.”
Karl arrives for the afternoon and evening shift around 2 p.m. and works until closing.
By the end of November, Karl was waiting for a charbroiler he ordered, so he could begin cooking his signature steaks for patrons. Karl’s cooking duties also include other meats, such as his hamburgers, while Arlene concentrates on casseroles, specials, soups, salads and cookies.
As the restaurant opens its doors at 10 a.m., diners can order sandwiches off the menu and will find a daily soup available.
“We try to vary the soups every day,” Karl said. “We’ve had vegetable beef, chili, chicken soup, cream of broccoli and potato soup.”
When they first opened, Karl and Arlene offered a salad bar at lunch, but they quickly realized most diners wanted that option available during the evening meal.
“We decided to have it only in the evenings, because nobody’s taking from the salad bar at lunch time,” Karl said.
The most popular sandwich is the bacon cheeseburger served with french fries for $5.85, Karl said.
“I always put seasonings in my hamburgers, but not salt. It’s almost taboo in a restaurant as far as I’m concerned.”
Among a variety of sandwiches on the menu is the Frisco melt and fries for $5.50. Karl puts a hamburger patty on sourdough bread and covers it with American cheese and sauteed onions. And the open-face hot roast-beef sandwich and fries for $5 comes with a slice of bread covered with hot-roast beef, mashed potatoes and is then topped with gravy.
The sandwich menu is available throughout the day, and the dinner menu is offered beginning at 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Senior citizens get a free drink with their dinner after 4:30 p.m. Those dinners come with all-you-can-eat soup-and-salad bar; choice of baked potato, mashed potatoes or french fries; and a vegetable. Prices range from $5.50 for Arlene’s homemade meat loaf to $14.95 for Karl’s t-bone steak dinner.
The recipe for Arlene’s specialty-meat loaf-will remain a secret, but she did admit that she doesn’t use bread crumbs as one of her ingredients.
“I use something else instead,” she said. “I wanted to make sure we had something reasonable, so I decided we’d have the meat loaf. I had no idea people would be ordering it like they are-that it would be so popular. It’s totally amazing how many meat loaves we go through.”
In addition to the meat loaf, the dinner menu includes choice of the following entrees: three pieces of home-baked chicken, a 10-ounce hamburger steak, two grilled pork chops, a breaded-beef pattie with homemade breading, fish and chips, ham steak, a 10-ounce sirloin steak, a 14-ounce rib eye, a KC strip and the 16-ounce t-bone.
Pointing out the stand-up freezer in his kitchen, Karl said it only contains french fries, onion rings, fish, chicken strips and ice cream.
“And that’s it,” he said. “All my meat is done fresh. We buy meat every other day or sometimes every day over at Dale’s Supermarket.”
Every day except Sunday, a lunch special is available. Those vary each day and could include such items as cheeseburger and fries, tuna-noodle casserole, beef stroganoff, lasagna or spaghetti.
“The specials are very popular because it’s $5, and that includes your drink,” Arlene said. “And people know it’s made up already, and they can have a fast lunch.”
Although they didn’t originally plan to have evening dinner specials, the couple soon learned that it was something diners wanted.
“We’ve had her meat loaf, baked chicken, pork chops, and even open-face hot roast-beef sandwiches in the evening for a special,” Karl said. “The price varies with what we serve.”
A Sunday all-you-can-eat buffet is offered for $8, and the buffet items change each week.
“I always want four types of meats on the buffet all the time,” Karl said. “Last week, we had roast, ham, brauts and lasagna.”
Arlene said she was pleased that her lasagna satisfied her customers’ appetites.
“Everyone loved the lasagna on the buffet,” she said.
The couple said the restaurant is available for private parties, and Trudells will also cater-something they are advertising in the area so customers can book holiday parties with them.
“I can do anything that people want,” Karl said. “I’ll even cook up seafood if you want that for a party.”
In the near future, a seafood night will be featured at Arlene’s, and Karl said he will repeat it depending on how popular it is.
“I might try crab legs one night,” Karl said. “And I’ll put some shrimp on the salad bar and see how that goes, too.”
As they work out the kinks and grow their business, Karl said he asks customers to come to him or Arlene with any concerns.
“I want people to come up and tell us when something is wrong,” Karl said. “I appreciate that. I need to hear the bad with the good so I can make corrections.”
He also tells his employees to remember that every customer is important.
“I have to impress my customer who’s been here the 30th time around as I did the first time around,” Karl said. “Because that’s why they’re here the 30th time around, they like it.”
Barely open for a month, they are already seeing repeat customers, such as one Lehigh couple who recently ate dinner at Arlene’s four times in one week.
“They get off work and have to drive back to Lehigh, and a lot of people are tired after work-they don’t have the time or the energy to cook,” Arlene said.
“So we want to provide quality food, home cooking and a comfortable place for families to relax after work.”