|11/9/2020 11:40:00 AM|
Redwood dies, memories live
By Kenyon Bennett
A redwood icon has bit the sawdust. Constructed in 1962-63, the original Mills Redwood Restaurant building was demolished October 26 in Mineral Point. Its demise marks an ending but memories still linger.
Bill and Betty Mills, original owners, put dreams into action. The structure's history began with a "semi pulling in with the huge load of redwood. It all had been shipped directly from California. The shipment also included the redwood used to build some of the cabins out on Ludden Lake that were built by Fred Eckels," Maribeth (Mills) Weier, owners' daughter, said.
"Some years later when Fred still had a couple of cabins left to sell, my parents bought one and had it moved in to town. My dad dug the new basement/foundation that was attached to the restaurant's original foundation," she continued.
"I can remember the day the cabin was moved into place. I stood down in the original basement, watching it slowly being moved into place, my dad kind of scolding me not to go any closer!" she exclaimed.
Bill and Betty first ran a diner. "My parents owned and operated a truck stop/garage/diner at the other end of town back in the 50s. To be honest, I don't really remember what it was called, other than maybe just Mills. It had living quarters attached, and that's where they were living when I was born in 1956. My mom opened up the diner early in the morning for the 'regulars' and truck drivers passing through. My dad ran the gas station and also the garage, where he sold tires and worked on vehicles," Weier said. "One could say I was born into the restaurant business."
When the Redwood opened, Bill and Betty served food from homemade recipes, including fresh pasty from scratch two to three days a week, depending on the season. "The pasties were never frozen, all made fresh. It was not unusual for us to run out of pasty during the lunch hour. Mom's pasty was made with sirloin beef, potatoes, onions, a little suet, all encased in her own crust," Weier said. "Many of Mom and Dad's grandkids would stand on a stool next to their grandma and watch her roll out her pasty crust, anxiously waiting to use up the leftover dough and make cinnamon strips!"
Ancestry determined foods offered. Bill, born and raised in Linden, "always said he was a 'Cousin Jack' and called many of his friends the same. My dad's ancestors were from England and Scotland. My mom was born and raised in Mineral Point, and her ancestors were from England and Ireland," Weier said. "Mom made mincemeat pie, which I believe originated in England. Mom also made the yummiest tea biscuits, another English delight."
Pies were customer favorites. Apple, cherry, and peach pies topped the list. Weier's favorite was cherry with real ice cream.
Weier, age seven, began work when the Redwood opened. The family had not yet installed a commercial dishwasher. Employees used three deep stainless steel sinks for washing, rinsing, and sterilizing dishes, pots, and pans. "I wasn't tall enough to reach down into the sinks, so I remember quite well standing on a five-gallon pickle bucket to reach," she said. "I worked all the way through high school, then I moved to Madison to go to school. However, I came home on weekends to work-part of the deal for my parents paying for my school."
"After returning home from Madison a year later, I worked at the restaurant while going another year of school at Southwest Tech. My first job out of vocational school was part time, just in the mornings, so at noon I would head over to the restaurant and work the lunch and dinner hours. My oldest son was born in February 1980. I worked through my pregnancy and until my parents sold the restaurant the following year," Weier said.
Renee (Lawinger) Dahl, age 14, began her first job at the Redwood in 1974. Employees stayed busy. "When I started there, I learned from some very amazing hard-working ladies, Pat Nast, Ellie Graber, Brigitte Dolphin, Marge Doyle, and Cora Rice. These women made working hard look easy and taught me how to be a good waitress," Dahl said.
Bill and Betty offered flexible hours for younger staff. "I remember working Friday nights' fish fries, leaving to march at halftime at the football game, and then returning to finish my shift," Dahl said. "On my very first day of being a waitress, Ruby Speich, a regular, taught me the proper way to set a table and the correct side to place the fork, knife, and spoon," she said. The procedure is "something I often laugh about but always remember to do correctly."
Jan (Lawinger) Manteufel, Renee's younger sister, began working at age 14 at the Redwood in 1977. Ownership changed during her seven years there. Manteufel often pointed out the building to her young children, now older, telling them her first job had been there. "I was able to pay for 50% of college from tips!" she said. "If I ever needed a ride to or from work, Bill would provide."
"I learned to peel potatoes, make pasties, and never made an 'empty' trip-there is always a plate to pickup as you pass by a table," Manteufel remembered.
"Working for a family-owned business, you become part of the family. Bill and Betty Mills would close the restaurant a few weeks every January and take a trip to Florida," Manteufel said. One year, the owners took cook Cora Rice and Manteufel in their RV to Florida.
Weier remember cook Pat Nast. "I believe she started shortly after the restaurant opened. Pat was a hoot! Elanor Graber and Pat were good friends, and they were quite a pair keeping things lively and comical. I always chuckle when I remember how Pat's apron was such a mess by the time she was done with her shift. My Dad and Pat shared many funny stories and jokes back and forth. I was always scooted out of the kitchen before they'd exchange their jokes!"
Weier provided names of many long-term former employees. "Kay (Flanagan) Walsh, Phoebe Grant, Eleanor Graber, Dorothy Moreland, Cindy (Trevarrow) Ayers, and Marge Doyle were wait staff. Alice Halvorson, Cora Rice, Pat Nast, Shirley Conley, Anne Koehler, and my sister Becky Springer were cooks," she said. "Assisting in the kitchen, doing multiple tasks, were Barb (Conley) Epting, Chris (Trevarrow) Miller, and many of my parents' grandchildren."
Weier learned life lessons from her parents at the Redwood. "Work hard, treat your customers right, provide excellent service and an excellent product. Your customers are your 'Number 1' marketing tools, so treat them fairly," she said.
"Ron and Shirley Wallace bought the Redwood in 1981," Weier said. Several owners followed.
The Redwood's demise caused sadness. Weier, permission granted, took a piece from a redwood log after demolition. A dream had run its full course.
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