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Fairfax cafe known for breakfast

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 10/22/2013 9:49 AM

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FAIRFAX, Minn. — It's 10 a.m. and the Methodists are at one table, the ladies are celebrating a birthday at the rectangle table by the window and Mike and John are sitting along the bar.

All is as it should be at Smokey Hollow, where the first guests arrive shortly after Becky Henderson opens the doors at 4:45 a.m. Elevator employees, retired farmers, truck drivers and construction workers arrive first, leaving as necessary to get to their jobs.

Her husband, Steve Henderson, is one who departs. He cooks from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., then he leaves for his job at Fairfax Ag Systems.

Others stay, eating both breakfast and lunch at the cafe.

It's a friendly place where people move from table to table, said Henderson, who also is known as Miss Becky. A lot of women come in to celebrate birthdays. They tell her ahead of time and she decorates the table special for them, a gesture the ladies much appreciate.

"The people have been good," Henderson said. "The people have been great to me."

She moved to Fairfax in 1990 with four little kids. Henderson worked at Smokey Hollow for one weekend in 1989 and was a waitress there in 1990-91.

On Aug. 1, 1992, she opened the cafe under her ownership. It was closed for the weekend to clean, Henderson said.

A Franklin native, the people of Fairfax welcomed her. They helped her get her kids on the bus and helped her raise them.

On Dec. 8, 1992, someone broke into Smokey Hollow and took the coffee can filled with $298, the money Henderson had tucked away to buy her kids' Christmas presents. Within 20 minutes, the community had raised more than $500 to replace what was lost.

Henderson has worked in the hotel and restaurant business all her life. When she was 3 years old, she decided she wanted to buy a restaurant.

"I totally believe in goals," she said.

Her other goals from that age were to go to Jamaica and to buy a house. She's done all three.

She also has set another goal: "I want to be the next Marie Callender."

Henderson wants to sell her meatballs in grocery freezer sections. The meatballs are oft-requested for catered family celebrations, she said.

Smokey Hollow is known for its home-cooked meals, reasonable prices and friendly people, Henderson said.

"The prices, they can't be beat," she said.

A noon special is served every day. Sometimes, it's a hot dish. Other times, it's a meat, potato and gravy plate.

Their Henderson eggs — a fluffy omelet — and pancakes are favorites.

"Our pancakes are unbeatable," Henderson said.

A two egg, toast and coffee breakfast is $4. A half a dinner is $3.75. A hamburger is $3.

"We were the first butterburger," she said. "We butter our buns always. Our burgers are great."

Smokey Hollow also is known for its Thanksgiving and Christmas buffets. The buffets are served the Thursday before the holiday — on Nov. 21 and Dec. 19 this year. Henderson will serve 180 people those days.

Diners enter, pay at the bar and go through the line into the room next door. It's the Lion's Den. The Lion's club owns the building, but Henderson rents it as the base for her catering operation.

Smokey Hollow has a long tradition in Fairfax. A business has been in that location since 1872. It was a mercantile until 1947 when it became a restaurant. It never has had a phone; the number now used is Henderson's cell phone number.

Smokey Hollow was known as Bill's Place for a while, evidenced by the menu Henderson displays. It was hanging on the wall when she bought the place. It also was known as C&A Recreation. In 1977, it was renamed Smokey Hollow.

It was so-named because it was a smoke-filled place where women dare not enter. Henderson kept the name but converted it to a smoke-free restaurant, installed lights in place of the dangling single bulbs and put in a ceiling. Now, window light streams in from the street to compliment the ceiling light.

She has made other updates through the years, but she has never closed -- she has always worked around her customers.

She is assisted by Marchell Haines, the cook; her parents, John and Delores Kokesch; and her daughter, Emily Bergman.

In addition, Henderson owns Squirrel's Bar and Grill, 105 SW First Ave., Fairfax. The former Legion hall has kitchen hours from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. A monthly buffet is served one Sunday per month. The Fairfax room is available for private parties.