State Fair’s Epiphany Diner to serve last meal

| August 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

After 45 years at the Minnesota State Fair, Epiphany in Coon Rapids has announced that it is closing Epiphany Diner, the last of the Catholic diners at the fair. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

After nearly half a century of serving its famous turkey and meatloaf dinners to hungry Minnesota State Fair-goers, Epiphany in Coon Rapids has announced that this will be Epiphany Diner’s final year at the fair.

Outdated kitchen equipment, dwindling customers and needed church building improvements all were factors that led to the decision.

“Now is just a time where, with all the financial constraints that everybody is feeling, we just had to reprioritize,” said parishioner Sue Lewis, who has volunteered at the diner for 15 years.

“It’s a heart-wrenching decision,” she added. “When you have this tradition that we’ve had for 45 years, it’s hard to let it go. . . . But we’re making this decision out of a sense of obligation to be good stewards of all the resources that we have.”

In its heyday during the early 1990s, Epiphany Diner served more than 30,000 customers per year. Last year, only 10,000 dinners were sold. Most people don’t come to the fair in search of a sit-down dinner these days, Lewis said. “Now we’re seeing more of a take and run, something on a stick type of fair-goer.”
Staffing the 12-day event also has become a challenge, Lewis said. More than 70 volunteers a day are needed to run the diner, with even more working behind the scenes.

Epiphany Diner

» When: Thursday, Aug. 25, to Monday, Sept. 5
» Where: West side of Underwood between Carnes and Judson streets
» Information:http://www.mnstatefair.org


Evangelization, fellowship

While the diner isn’t the lucrative fundraiser it once was for the parish, it has always been a source of evangelization and fellowship.

“In a parish as huge as ours, it was a nice way to meet people who you maybe didn’t sit next to in the pew,” Lewis said. “When you work really hard next to somebody for 10 hours, you learn a lot about them.”

Lewis has many special memories working at the fair. One year a couple held their wedding reception at the diner, she said. Another year the diner hosted senior royalty from area high schools. And then there were the “Lucille Ball moments,” the times when things didn’t go quite as smoothly as anticipated.

Lewis said she is sad that the diner is closing, but she hopes more parishioners will volunteer their time and create new memories at the parish’s annual Springfest and new Fall Gala, which will be held Saturday, Dec. 3.

She invites everyone to come to the diner this year for one last hurrah.

“We really hope that people will come and celebrate this last year with us,” Lewis said. “The food will be as good as ever. We’re not cutting any corners.”

Old favorites, including barbecue ribs, meatloaf and ostrich burgers, will be brought back this year. A family-style breakfast also will be on the menu.

At one time, as many as 20 churches of various denominations had diners at the fair, according to a State Fair spokesperson. Now only two remain — Hamline Methodist United Church and Salem Lutheran Church.

After St. Bernard’s Bulldog Diner closed its doors in 2009, Epiphany Diner was the only Catholic diner.

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