Serving a purpose in Porter
In a small town, businesses are few and far between. That's why the people living in Porter know how important the town's cafe is to them.
Brian Kolehmainen, who was born in Los Angeles and has lived and worked most of his life near big cities, took over ownership of the Porter Cafe on Oct. 16, 2021.
"I'm committed to this place and doing the best job I can," he said. "I know how this restaurant is important to the people that live here."
Kolehmainen bought the cafe from Becky Noyes, who was able to keep the place running despite the pandemic the past two years.
"She had a battle, but did a great keeping it going," said Kolehmainen, who is co-owner with Christine Diekmann, who is from Slayton and now lives in Taunton.
The Porter Development Project, a non-profit community membership organization, owns the building and most of the equipment.
"The organization was started in 1986 and built the new cafe (in 1988), which at the time was also a grocery store, to ensure availability of the business in the community for years to come," said Josh Sumption, who is secretary of the PDP.
The cafe is now open more hours than it was during the pandemic, much to the delight of those who patronize the business on a regular basis.
"We're excited about the changes Brian has already brought to the menu and hours," said Sumption. "Especially with the cafe being open Friday and Saturday evenings, making it a place that people who work out of town can still patronize."
Kolehmainen's family moved from Los Angeles to rural Robbinsdale when he was four or five years old. He attended Robbinsdale Cooper and played hockey, graduating in 1990.
"If you live in Robbinsdale and you are Finnish, you have to play hockey," Kolehmainen laughed.
Kolehmainan worked and ran several businesses in Minneapolis, Dallas and other cities, many centering on commercial interiors such as offices and hotels.He then moved to southwestern Minnesota a few years ago.
"I was sick of the rat race in the big cities," he explained. "I was raised in a rural setting, so I decided to move back to a rural setting."
As recently as 18 months ago, he worked for Boehnke Waste Handling, an agricultural wholesale management firm in Marietta.
Kolehmainen heard about the corner cafe in Taunton being up for sale and inquired about that. He was told by a local friend that a better option might be to buy the Porter Cafe, which was also up for sale by Noyes.
Since he and Diekmann have taken over ownership, they have changed the menu, added five booths and are open for evening meals.
"We're hoping with Brian's dedication and willingness to try new things, we'll see him be successful in this endeavor," said Sumption. "Brian's success is our success as the Porter Development Project."
The new owners also now offer homemade pizzas of all kinds.
"The pizzas are all made from scratch," said Kolehmainen, who also serves as the night cook. "We use all fresh ingredients on the pizzas. People really like the pizzas and we're selling a lot of them."
The cafe gets the majority of their food and supplied from Rheinhart Foods in Marshall, while all the meat comes fresh from Canby Meat Center.
"I don't like to see an item on the menu over 20 bucks," said Kolehmainen, who pointed to Tuesday's special of an 8-ounce top sirloin with baked potato, soup or salad, and a dinner roll for $19.99. "You have to do a lot of cost analysis to keep margins up."
Many of the items on the menu are homemade, such as the buns and cinnamon rolls.
The Porter Cafe also caters many area events, as well as preparing 750 fully cooked or frozen meals a month for Prairie 5 on the Go, similar to Meals on Wheels.
There are 14 employees at Porter Cafe. Ten of those are high school students at Canby or Minneota.
"It's going good so far," said Kolehmainen, when asked. "The key is we have a good following. They realize that they need to come here and spend money in order to keep it going."