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Published June 24, 2013, 11:35 PM

Fergus Falls’ Cafe 116 becomes tasty stop for travelers, locals

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - Café 116 may be located on a major intersection in downtown Fergus Falls, just off Lincoln and Union Avenues, but it’s more than two miles off the interstate.

By: John Lamb, INFORUM

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - Café 116 may be located on a major intersection in downtown Fergus Falls, just off Lincoln and Union Avenues, but it’s more than two miles off the interstate.

That doesn’t keep the eatery from being a popular destination both for road warriors and devoted locals.

Since cook Jennifer Davis and coffee-expert Greg Stumbo teamed up in September 2009, the small restaurant has made a mark on the national map for its simple, yet substantial fare.

Stumbo says last week a couple driving from Seattle to Washington, D.C., made a point of staying the night in Fergus just to have breakfast at Café 116 after reading reviews on Yelp.

“It’s the best coffee in town that I’ve had,” says Brad Rumler, a native Australian, on one of his yearly visits from Oklahoma City.

“They come from all over the world,” Stumbo says. “They come in every year so you get reacquainted.”

Stumbo runs the front of the coffee bar and the front of the house, while Davis keeps watch from a small, but manageable kitchen.

Four years ago Stumbo had no desire to run a restaurant, but becoming a business partner with Davis was the right move at the right time, with each partner complementing the other.

“We can focus on what each of us does best,” Davis says. “It just works.”

Before opening Café 116, Davis had an even smaller restaurant to the west, next to Falls Baking Company, but the location wasn’t right.

Stumbo was operating his business, Stumbeano’s Coffee Roasters in the building the Café is in now. Together with the building owner, a plan was hatched to form a new, joint business.

While the first year was hard, with time off only for holidays, the second year they scaled back to just breakfasts and lunches, giving themselves some time to breathe but still giving their customers the good food and coffee they’d become used to.

That customer base extends from teenagers hanging out to old friends catching up.

“Everyone who likes scrambled eggs and toast and wants a simple breakfast to people who want complex things and realize what a good cup of coffee can be,” Davis says when asked what the clientele is.

Affordable prices and a distinct menu that leans toward locally raised food helps attract a crowd.

Farm-fresh eggs are always on the menu, with the harvest eggs, a mix of three scrambled with a mix of corn, onions and green peppers and bacon and a side of toast for $5.95. Davis’ Belgian waffle, made with organic flour, buttermilk and served with real butter and maple syrup tops out the early menu at $6.95.

Full sandwiches and the bean burrito – a favorite of the late South Dakota Sen. George McGovern – demand the top price on the lunch menu at $7.50, including chips.

There are no hamburgers and fries on the menu – yet. The kitchen is too small for a grill, and Davis’ fryer is dedicated to beignets in the morning.

“There are a number of things we don’t do now but could do in the future,” Davis says. “I’m also committed to making everything from scratch, and if I had to make homemade fries, that might drive me over the edge.”

She says she’s working with a local farmer to get affordable garden-fresh vegetables in for the summer and plans to buy a hog soon for fresh brats and breakfast sausages.

“We both use local products,” Davis says. “We’d love to be all organic but nobody can afford that. Not in this town at least.”

While coffee may not be grown in the area, Stumbo gets his beans from a Twin Cities importer and roasts the beans on site, aiming to brew coffee within 24 hours.

“It’s the freshest,” Davis says.

The proof is in the clientele. Stumbo recalls mornings when every pastor in town was in for a cup.

Tuesdays are especially busy when the soup du jour is the spicy shrimp and sausage gumbo.

“It’s by far the most popular. It’s the thing people look forward to,” Stumbo says. “If I schedule myself a day off on Tuesday, I come in and get it. It’s like withdrawal.”

With a large meeting room, Café 116 is a favorite place for locals to talk business away from the office. Business-based clientele shifts to a more casual crowd in the summer as more visitors are drawn to the lakes area.

“It’s become an iconic piece of Fergus Falls. It’s kind of the place you want to be seen in,” says Wayne Stender, who works for nearby Hillcrest Lutheran Academy and sees a number of students in the eatery. “You have to budget an hour because you’re going to run into someone you know.”

“We need to get one of these in Battle Lake,” adds Lisa Malmstrom, sitting across the table from Stender.

But it’s worth the drive.

If you go

What: Café 116

Where: 116 South Union Ave., Fergus Falls, Minn.

Hours: 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

Reservations: No

Info: (218) 998-3780. www.cafe116.com

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533