PLATTEVILLE — Ed’s Café is, or was, a throwback in a number of different ways.
The building at 115 E. Business 151 is located on what used to be U.S. 151 before the 151 freeway opened in 2005. Next door is Platteville Shell, which used to be a service station before it became a convenience store.
The menu has changed little in the past five decades — hot beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy, French fried chicken, country fried steak, burgers, tater tot casserole, and desserts almost all made from scratch.
On Sunday, 52½ years after the restaurant opened, Ed’s Café closed for the last time. The restaurant’s losing its lease promoted owners Clayton and Kathy Poller to retire. An auction of the restaurant’s equipment will be held Thursday, and the Pollers will vacate the restaurant Sunday.
“It’s been a lot of people feeling really, shall I say, upset about what they’re going to do when we’re gone,” said Clayton Poller. “Some little old ladies have been crying on my shoulder, which is a little tough to take.”
One customer told Clayton “I don’t get here near enough” at lunch on Friday.
Barb Daus came to eat lunch Friday. The former UW–Platteville alumni director once filled a request from an early 1990s UWP alumnus to ship a container of the restaurant’s chili to his home in West Virginia.
The throwback feeling extended to its last days. A number of longtime customers visited, coming back to Platteville from as far as California, New Jersey and Wyoming. A number of former employees “came back to work the last couple days just to be here,” he said. “I had two cooks worked here a lot of years; they’re coming back so we don’t have to cook the last weekend.”
One longtime employee there for the last days was Joyce Alt, 80, who worked at Ed’s for more than 50 years as a cook and waitress.
“It makes it easier when you have somebody who’s so dependable,” said Kathy. “And then you have those everyday customers. We have one customer that goes and gets the ice and makes the coffee.”
“Ed” was Ed Hinderman, the restaurant’s original owner, who opened the restaurant the day after Thanksgiving 1959 but died in the early 1960s. Hinderman’s manager, Florence Gardner, purchased the restaurant after Hinderman’s death when Kathy was nine years old.
Clayton Poller came to Platteville as a UW–Platteville student when Gardner offered the restaurant to him after graduation.
“I told him it was up to him because I wanted nothing to do with it,” she said. “I married me a college man to take me away.”
“It’s basically Kathy and me,” said Clayton. “We usually closed three times a year for a week or so. We’d open at 5:30; we’d get here at 5 and there’d be people waiting at the door.”
The Pollers’ children worked at the restaurant. Their daughter, Tammy Jantzen, was there for the weekend with her own granddaughter, Alivia Gardner of Platteville.
“The restaurant should not be, but the kids had to live through the restaurant coming first,” said Kathy. “The kids survived.”
The menu hasn’t changed much over the years. The most popular breakfast item was omelets. Kathy said the best lunch and dinner item was the hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.
“This isn’t a fancy place, so it’s still soups, salads,” said Kathy. “Weekend is definitely a breakfast thing.
“You’d have people who would come in and suggest things — sourdough bread. And people would come in and eat it, and now nobody does.”
Clayton made all the restaurant’s dinner and sweet rolls by hand. “And he’s not going to be sorry to see that end,” said Kathy.
Kathy made desserts. The most popular one last weekend seemed to be strawberry shortcake, but, she said, “I think I make pretty good cakes other than that.”
In its last days Ed’s was down to 12 employees, about half what it usually had.
“This place was more like a truck stop,” said Kathy. “They used to fix vehicles next door. And then the last few years it’s been more like a country store.”
Kathy can’t guess how many employees Ed’s has had over the years.
“I could count up to 1987, back when I had that all typed up,” she said. “And then I quit doing it.”
Their three children worked at the restaurant — Tammy, Brad and Jamie, who was the restaurant’s manager for many years. Two of their grandchildren, Jessica Welch and Steven Jantzen, also worked at the restaurant.
The move of 151 south of Platteville didn’t affect business appreciably.
“Our biggest business is local,” said Kathy. “You have those same faces day after day, and bless their hearts.”
Until Country Kitchen opened in the 1980s, Ed’s was open 24 hours a day.
“It was a bar crowd,” said Kathy. “Even as a younger child when Mom ran it, I used to dread phone calls at night.”
One night, a group of diners started a food fight. Platteville police were called, and 17 people were arrested. The disorderly diners were booked at the Platteville police station, and came right back to Ed’s.
“When we were open on the night shift, a guy shot a hole through the door,” said Clayton. “We had a lot of streakers” during the 1970 streaking craze.
One diner rode his motorcycle into the restaurant. Another person brought a horse into the restaurant.
Closing the night shift “was one of the better things we did,” said Kathy.
Ed’s never had a fire, but a service technician checking the fire extinguisher system once accidentally set it off. When the Pollers were gone, Jantzen once set it off when she became concerned about flame underneath one of the grills.
“We had to wash every dish,” she said. “It was a mess.”
Ed’s once served as the local nerve center for power line repairs after an ice storm. The utility asked by promising to restore the restaurant’s power as soon as they could.
“They got me power right away, and we stayed open,” said Clayton.
“People would be stranded here all the time,” said Kathy. “There were people that ended up sitting here all night waiting for the plows to come.”
With the restaurant’s closing, the Pollers are planning to travel to the West in November, then to visit their son in Tennessee and Disney World.
“That’s Clayton’s playground,” said Kathy. “I think it’s our 15th trip to Disney World. And we’re already working on next year. I hope we can stay busy enough to not think about working for a while.”