Tulare restaurant offers farm-to-fork food

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By Victoria Lusk

vlusk@aberdeennews.com

Marie Kimlicka says everyone knows two things:

• The heart of a small town is its café.

• And farmers’ wives are the best cooks and bakers.

She’s melded those two truisms when she took over Auntie Mimi’s Farmhouse Kitchen — also known as the Tulare Café — in January.

“When I came into the business, my goal was to represent all farm wives. Basically, I moved my farmhouse kitchen to here,” she said during a phone interview June 14.

Kimlicka and her partner Kurt VanVleet saw taking over the café as a way to diversify their farm, something that was needed due to the “sketchy” agriculture economy, Kimlicka said.

Now the small town labor of love isn’t just feeding the local Spink County community of 200. It’s also supporting local farmers.

All of the meat used at the cafe is sourced within a 10-mile radius, Kimlicka said.

VanVleet is the third generation on the family farm 6 miles northeast of Tulare that provides both the beef and lamb for the café. Another area farm provides the pork.

From the start, Kimlicka knew that she would turn the café into a farm-to-fork business.

“I thought, ‘Why not?’ Why aren’t we using this outlet as a way to promote the ag industry?” she said. “As long as we’re doing this in beef country, why aren’t we selling local beef?”

Auntie Mimi’s went farm-to-table March 15, Kimlicka said. That was after working with the South Dakota Beef Council and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It took us a while to jump through hoops,” she said.

But the effort has proven worthwhile.

“We sell about a dozen fresh-baked pies a week, probably about 10 dozen big chocolate chip cookies, three to four pans of Scotcharoos. Everything is just like what you’d get at a farm or in grandma’s kitchen,” Kimlicka said.

“We went through 2,000 pounds of hamburger in three months,” she said.

The café is only open for breakfast and lunch, from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Recently, however, Kimlicka has had a “lunch wagon” — a vintage 1982 lemonade stand on wheels — that now acts as Auntie Mimi’s food trailer.

The trailer is used at auctions and travels to Redfield twice a week: on Thursdays for lunch and on Friday nights for beers and burgers outside of Crystal’s Bar, 1202 W. Third St.

Auntie Mimi’s also offers lunch delivery to area businesses in or near Redfield, from Wilbur-Ellis to Wheat Growers to the Redfield Energy ethanol plant.

“A lot of our customers are support people for the ag business,” Kimlicka said.

Staying busy

Diversifying meant both Kimlicka and VanVleet would have to take on more work.

“(He) is having to do most of the duties around the farm himself, but when I get done with the café I go home and help him. We work cattle, sort calves, anything that requires a helping hand we do after the café is closed. I still play a very active role on the farm,” she said.

Auntie Mimi’s wouldn’t be possible without VanVleet’s support, Kimlicka said. The hats he wears are many, often acting as an encourager, farmer, supplier and the maintenance man.

The couple plants corn, soybeans and wheat, she said. They also do custom silage chopping.

“This year Kurt will be in a little bit of a pickle because I was the one that ran the cutter. He’ll have to find help,” Kimlicka said.

The café not only employs younger people in the community, but also provides volunteer opportunities. Two women, ages 82 and 85, don’t charge for their dish-washing services.

“And it’s awesome. People can come in here, see the ladies working, and they know them, they visit. The (ladies) add a lot of character,” she said.

Something familiar

The business offers a small menu for breakfast and lunch, as well as a lunch feature, which are typically homemade comfort foods.

Tator tot casserole is the favorite, Kimlicka said, often selling to standing-room only crowds.

Kimlicka uses the green newsprint pages of the Farm Forum as placemats and to display the daily special. Farm Forum is a product of the American News company.

“The Green Sheet is just an iconic staple of every rural household. It just seemed logical for us,” Kimlicka said. “The (pages) are everywhere and people just love it. They just love it,” she said.

Moving forward, education

In just a short amount of time, Auntie Mimi’s has made big progress.

“This started out as a way to diversify our family farm … Now, we’re teaching people where their food comes from and supporting the local farm economy, Kimlicka said.

She hopes to inspire other communities.

“Every day there’s something that happens here,” she said. “It really is a labor of love.”

To her, words can’t do the café justice.

“It’s something you have to see and feel,” Kimlicka said. “There’s an old-fashioned way of life that most people think has gone extinct and it’s alive and well right here in Tulare, S.D. — 57476.”

Follow @vlusk_AAN on Twitter.

  • Auntie Mimi’s Farmhouse Kitchen, also known as the Tulare Cafe
  • Address: 107 Main St., Tulare
  • Phone: 605-596-4100
  • Facebook: Auntie Mimi’s Farmhouse Kitchen aka the Tulare Cafe
  • Hours: Monday through Friday 6:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Marie Kemlicka, center, with her employees (left to right) Ashlyn Otto, Dawsyn Otto, Erin Barrie and Ally Binger. Farm Forum photo
Marie Kemlicka. Farm Forum Photo
Auntie Mimi’s Farmhouse Kitchen repurposes pages of The Farm Forum Green Sheet as placemats and to display the daily specials. Farm Forum Photo by Stephanie Binger
Area farmers meet for breakfast and coffee at Auntie Mimi’s Farmhouse Kitchen in Tulare. Courtesy photo