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Beloved manager retires from Country Kitchen after 47 years

“I've actually been at Country Kitchen longer than I've been married and I've been married for 42 years. So it's definitely a home away from home. It's actually home,” Marlo Nelson said.

Marlo Nelson, pictured above, is retiring after 47 years at Country Kitchen in Dickinson. S
Marlo Nelson, pictured above, is retiring after 47 years at Country Kitchen in Dickinson. She has led various roles during her four-decade career from dishwasher, server to finally, manager and part-owner. Nelson leaves behind a legacy of innovative customer service and countless memories and bonds with staff and the community.
Contributed / Marlo Nelson

DICKINSON — More than four decades ago, Marlo Nelson began her career at Country Kitchen behind the apron, loading the sinks as a dishwasher. Throughout the years, she has conquered every role from server, shift leader to manager. As one of the most loved community managers in Dickinson, Marlo is retiring from her managerial and part owner roles, leaving behind a legacy at Country Kitchen.

Serving the community for 47 years, Marlo spoke about her time at Country Kitchen as something she’ll always be grateful for.

“I've actually been at Country Kitchen longer than I've been married and I've been married for 42 years. So it's definitely a home away from home. It's actually home,” Marlo said, with a chuckle. “I've been just surrounded by really good people there. I'm so fortunate to be able to say that. So many people go from job to job and Country Kitchen’s always just been family to me. I have so many staff there 20 years, 30 years and so you build relationships with them and with the customers. So it's very bittersweet to move on.”

Marlo first began at Country Kitchen as a dishwasher, then worked her way to a server. From there, she led roles as shift leader, assistant manager and finally, manager and part owner.

“When I started, my mom was a prep cook there. My sister worked there when I first started and I actually worked for her for a while. I love my family and… we grew up on a farm and we grew up being together as a family and so that carried over into work and I enjoyed that. I was always learning new things and I became very attached to customers and other employees and I enjoyed the work,” she said. “There was always something new to learn and I really enjoyed that.”

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Marlo Nelson and her husband Ryan at a Country Kitchen convention.
Marlo Nelson and her husband Ryan at a Country Kitchen convention.
Contributed / Marlo Nelson

Throughout the years, Marlo has maintained a work ethic and relationship with all of her employees that has been recognized at the national level for its “exceptional management, customer-friendly orientation and financial results,” according to Jerry Brantner, who was one of the original owners of Country Kitchen.

“Marlo and staff were innovative and resourceful during the pandemic at a time when thousands of restaurants across the country closed their doors for good,” Jerry said.

Marlo said she’s grateful for Jerry and his family, for they have been such a huge blessing to her life.

“I just love them like family and he's been such a good business partner with me,” she said. “I could not have asked for anybody better. When you're young and you're starting out and you're just learning the role, to have somebody like Jerry that believes in you and is behind the decisions that you make and doesn't question you, that's priceless. So I'm just extremely grateful to the Brantner family.”

In 2021, Country Kitchen in Dickinson sold enough bacon that if one were to place it end to end, they’d wind up in Belfield, approximately 20 miles away. The restaurant also sold enough pancakes that stacked all the way to the other side of South Heart.

During Marlo’s time at the helm, her restaurant received sales plateau awards in silver, gold, platinum, diamond and double diamond. Other accolades Marlo was able to achieve for multiple years include sales awards, Operating Partner Award and President’s Award. According to Country Kitchen CEO Chuck Mocco, these awards could not be obtained without great leadership from Marlo and an awesome team to back them up.

“Country Kitchen was a good business to work with and if I ever had any questions, they were a phone call away,” Marlo said, explaining that sometimes change was difficult such as writing up tickets and now using a POS system. “So they really were able to take my hand, walk me through it and teach me not to be afraid of new things.”

Holding an award, Marlo Nelson, manager and part owner of Country Kitchen, center left, is leaving behind a legacy at Country Kitchen in Dickinson.
Holding an award, Marlo Nelson, manager and part owner of Country Kitchen, center left, is leaving behind a legacy at Country Kitchen in Dickinson.
Contributed / Marlo Nelson

After 47 years in the restaurant business, Marlo noted that a manager has to be willing to do any sort of task.

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“I think the biggest thing is to never think that you know everything and always be willing to learn from the people around you," she said. "Just surround yourself with really smart people that you can learn from and to just never be afraid to do the most menial tasks because you lead by example. So if you're not afraid to scrub a toilet, if you're not afraid to wash cartloads of dishes and shovel the sidewalk and all those kinds of things, your crew takes their cues from you. And it builds just great teamwork and friendships.”

For Marlo, it’s the countless memories and stories from customers and staff that will never be forgotten during her time at Country Kitchen.

“They'll come in and they can be down and then you talk to them and they leave with a smile on their face — what better way to serve… You're serving God's people when you're in the restaurant business,” she said. “You're literally feeding the hungry and visiting the downtrodden and you share your joys and your sorrows and they get to know you.”

As she takes off her apron and managerial hat, Marlo is looking forward to spending more time with her family, especially her grandchildren. Though she’s dedicated her life to Country Kitchen, she noted that it will take some time getting used to not being behind the counter, helping her staff and greeting customers on a daily basis.

“I am going to miss my staff and my customers… I can't even tell you how much I love my staff,” she said, as her voice echoed with emotion. “They mean the world to me.”

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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