New home cooking: Medora welcomes Elkhorn Café owners
MEDORA — Customers at the Elkhorn Café in Medora are greeted with a friendly smile and a hot cup of coffee when they stop by for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
They can expect a home-cooked meal and friendly chatter from the new owners, Pete and Chantal Hegge.
There’s even a chance they will be greeted in their native language because Chantal is a linguist able to speak seven languages.
“I grew up in Luxembourg,” she said. “We had hotels and restaurants, but that was 40 years ago,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for so long, it all comes natural.”
Chantal usually doesn’t say anything when she hears another language being spoken, but will greet them if they say something first.
“It does surprise them,” she said.
Chantal moved to America as a young bride. She worked in restaurants in Missouri while raising her family of three children.
She met Pete four years ago.
A native of Williston, Pete packed up his vehicle and left home after high school. Much of his career was spent in law enforcement in small communities in Nevada. The Elkhorn Café came up for sale in September and, looking for a change, they decided to give it a try.
“I knew the area, and I’m used to this kind of weather,” Chantal said. “I love the charm of the area. I don’t want to change anything. I think the town is really nice and all the businesses get along fine.”
Pete admits he didn’t know a thing about the restaurant business, but trusted his wife to teach him.
“I started out serving and she taught me to cook,” he said.
The couple is never far from their business, living in an apartment above the café.
“You get used to the trains — they definitely shake the whole building,” he said.
Since moving here, the couple has kept most of the menu items and added a few.
“We try to stick to home-cooked type of menus,” Pete said. “But we do French dips with roast beef. We do meatloaf sandwiches, we do patty melts and homemade soups.”
Pastries include pies, cookies, caramel rolls, brownies and muffins that they bake.
Dinners may feature a 12-ounce rib-eye steak or a chicken-fried steak with sides.
Chantal has ideas for new menu items for the summer, but expects to introduce them slowly.
“Remember in Luxembourg, we are a very rich country,” she said. “The menus are different. If we were to try some of these things here, people would ask what it is?”
Pete said the locals are letting them know their favorite menu items.
“We’re thinking about expanding a few items for the summer months, things like hummus and veggie sticks,” he said. “We want to serve more fruit and veggies.”
Saturdays and Sundays have been their busiest days this winter, but it depends on the weather. They are closed Mondays.
“Some days — if it’s nice — a lot of tourists are passing through,” Pete said.
The Hegges trying to help get the word out that some Medora stores are open during the winter. A list is available at the Medora Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a fun pace right now,” he said. People come to hang out and talk. I’ll miss that when we get busy in the summer time.”
Pete describes the business as a typical mom-and-pop café.
“We haven’t done any kind of fixing up yet,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of overhead starting up and haven’t decorated like we want. We need some nice elk horn racks on the walls.”
Having lived in small communities for much of his life, the transition to Medora has been easy.
“The business owners here have been real supportive,” Pete said. “Here, the farmers and ranchers have integrity and honesty, and Medora reflects that. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid.”
Pete thinks the biggest challenge for Medora is to find affordable housing for their seasonal workers who live there during the summer.
Meanwhile, he continues to learn the ins and outs of the café business.
“Cooking is a challenge that you have to learn,” he said. “Even breakfast and burgers are an art form. I never served. I never worked a cash register.”
On the flip side, Pete appreciates the advantages of operating a café.
Their clientele is a diverse bunch of locals, business people and tourists.
Joe and Dina Anderson of New Rockford recently drove to Medora to spend the day in the area and ate breakfast at the Elkhorn.
“Two of the bright spots in Medora are the Western Edge Book Shop and the Elkhorn Café,” said Joe Anderson.
Chantal’s immediate goal is to bring more people into town during the winter — especially local folks from the surrounding areas. She also welcomes catering jobs, especially for weddings, parties and church gatherings.
Address: 314 Pacific Ave., Medora
Hours: Closed Mondays. Winter hours, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.