4 generations of family power Pereboom’s in Webster

Farm Forum

WEBSTER — In the back of a bustling cafe at the junction of U.S. Highway 12 and state Highway 25 is Junior Pereboom, whipping up the meringue topping for a pie.

The original owner of Pereboom’s Cafe is now 80, but he still wakes at 4 each morning to start baking for his patrons. It’s something he’s done for half his life — his restaurant is celebrating 40 years in business.

Loyal patrons shuffle in — a group of women gather for coffee. Farmers, still dirty from the morning’s work, seek a hot breakfast and somebody to talk with about crop prices.

Junior took over ownership in 1976. Once a gas station, the cafe has supported four generations of Perebooms.

“In essence, it truly is a family business since we were all brought up here, in all our ins and outs,” Junior said.

His son, Jay Pereboom, took over the restaurant with his wife, Janice, who does a lot of the bookkeeping and operational work.

But Jay and Janice still rely on his father and their own children for help.

Earlier in his life, Junior balanced running the cafe with working as principal at the school in Roslyn.

“I taught school in Roslyn for 25 years, and I lived in Webster. We would always come down here to have supper or lunch when these other people (owned the restaurant). In 1976, something came about and it came up for sale, and we jokingly talked about buying it. So we checked it out with the real estate guy, and that was a mistake, and he pressured us until we bought it,” Junior said.

“It’s a lot different when we started to what it is now. We had the mobile gas station out here, two islands, and this was a service area yet,” he said.

The Perebooms maintained the full-service gas station before switching to self-service in 1977. Junior said that’s when the service bay area was converted into a dining room.

“We sold gas out here for five or six years, and then we finally got to the point that we wanted to concentrate on the cafe, so we decided to let the gas business go,” Junior said.

That was in 1982.

Until his retirement from the Roslyn school in 1981, Junior said he ran “two places at the same time.”

“He’d get up in the morning, come here, then go to school, then come back here after teaching and would stay here until 10 p.m,” Jay said.

The early mornings take a toll on Junior nowadays, as he said he is “kind of wearing out.”

Family tradition

That’s where having four children has been a benefit.

“They didn’t exactly get born in here, but Jay has worked here since he was 9 years old. His brother was about 7, so they grew up in the place. I can’t really say that I’ve been here longer than anybody. They were in here, too, but they were pretty small. We put them to work though,” Junior said.

He also has two granddaughters and a grandson who help at the cafe.

Junior’s three sons are Jay, Jake and Jesse. Julie is his lone daughter. She was an invaluable waitress in the early years.

“She was a mainstay for many years,” Junior said.

The ladies who worked at the cafe before Junior took it over are given the credit of teaching him the most about cooking.

“When we came in, for example, the people that had it before, they had older ladies that worked, and I learned a lot from those old ladies. I worked with them for a long time. We had a lady named Augusta Olson, and she worked in here almost, they would say, until the day we carried her out. She was the original pie baker and those kinds of things,” Junior said.

Junior then passed on his knowledge to his kids and grandchildren.

“Junior was a teacher and he still teaches in here, and he’s always telling the kids how to do things like three, four, five or six times. Sometimes, he has more patience than I do with showing the kids how to do things. So he still teaches from a teacher’s perspective back there,” Jay said.

Jay’s four children — Lexi, Kalissa, Jacob and McKoy — can usually be found helping out at the restaurant on Sundays.

“We depend on the kids very much. Without the kids, we’d be lost,” Junior said.

Jay said being able to have his kids work in the restaurant has provided an opportunity for him to see them grow as people.

“It’s kind of neat, like on Sundays, with everyone’s lifestyle now, everyone is going different ways, and I guess we don’t always get to spend time with each other. But when you get to work with your kids, you always get to spend more time,” he said.

“Once they start working, they kind of blossom,” said Jay, who added he’s seen his once-timid kids develop confidence by working in the cafe.

“It’s pretty cool to watch,” he said.

While Lexi serves a group of farmers a cup of hot coffee, her 3-year-old daughter Hadley earns a fist full of change as a tip from one of the farmers for clearing his plate.

Community support

The Perebooms themselves aside, the other part of the restaurant’s success is the continuous support from the community and many regulars that stop in for a bite to eat.

“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had good business, and it’s been good support from the community. They’ve always patronized us, and they’ve gone out of the way and back to support us,” Junior said.

And Pereboom’s does what it can to keep things local, such as working with Jorgenson Meat Processing in Waubay to get ground beef for burger patties.

“We cook our own buns. We do a lot of our stuff from scratch yet. Junior’s meatloaf is from scratch. Nowadays now, all you got to do is throw it in the oven, but it’s still a lot better to do it from scratch and things like that,” Jay said.

One of the cafe’s signature dishes is called the breakfast scrap pile. And it’s just that — a delicious combination of hash browns, eggs, cheese, peppers, sausage and bacon, all piled together.

For one of the restaurant’s more famous customers — pro wrestler and mixed martial artist Brock Lesnar, a Webster native — it’s Pereboom’s brownies that can’t be beat, Junior said.

“We know Brock well. He’ll come sit here and talk, and he’s just an ordinary guy. And he likes brownies, so I always tell him, ‘Well Brock, I’m going to give you three or four brownies to take along,’” Junior said.

In recent years, the Webster area has experienced a boom in fishing, which has made it possible for the business to expand.

The Perebooms now run a lodging business, which is just behind the cafe and is comprised of two suites.

“The restaurant business is kind of a hard business, and we’ve been able to survive when a lot of other restaurants have come and gone. And we’ve been able to grow, like with the lodge,” said Jay, adding it couldn’t have happened without great employees through the years.

Many of the people who rent the suites are out-of-state anglers, he said.

Some visitors, Junior said, have hauled his doughnuts all over the U.S.

“I’ve got people who take the doughnuts back to California. I don’t know why, but I do bake them from scratch. I’ve got a few things that I do that I don’t think no one else does,” he said.

He said he has no plans to cut back on his early-morning hours anytime soon.

“This place is about the same as my home. I’d be lost if I couldn’t come down here,” Junior said.

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Pereboom’s Cafe

• 13 E. U.S. Highway 12 in Webster.

• Open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

• Owned for 40 years by Junior Pereboom, who still wakes at 4 each morning to start baking.

• Now operated by Jay Pereboom, with plenty of help from family members.

• Featured a full-service gas station until 1977.