Dean’s Dugout: Only a memory now

Posted May 16, 2019 at 5:52 pm

By Julie Ann Madden

Dean’s Dugout usually opened in March or at the latest early April.

Although opening the drive-in restaurant was to be a sign of summer, oftentimes there was a snowstorm after it opened for the season.

“People would tell mom she needed to open earlier so we could get that last snowstorm out of the way,” said Sherri Skou, daughter of the late Patricia Michael who owned and operated Dean’s Dugout from April 18, 1967 to the mid-2000s.

Mom would make the season last as long as possible — until she had to serve Hot Cocoa, said Skou.

Dean’s Dugout marked the seasons changing for more than 50 years.

In 1957, her grandparents, the late Dean and Betty Orris, of Akron, purchased the former Dairy Land Drive-In, located on Lots 1 and 2 in Sargent Addition, from Elizabeth Westadt Croslin who also owned the Hi-Way Cafeon Reed Street with Earl Westadt.

Dean and Betty named it Dean’s Dugout after “Dean” and the fact that they had to “dig out” the facility as it had been used for storage.

In 1967, they sold Dean’s Dugout to their daughter, Pat and her first husband, Bob Klemme for $1. Later, Pat and her second husband, Larry Michael, ran it. In 2006 after Pat became ill, Pat’s siblings began overseeing it.

In 2007, the drive-in surpassed the 50-year milestone of family ownership. First an aunt, then Skou, of Le Mars, and her sister, Jill Heins of Vermillion, S.D., tried to manage the restaurant from afar but that didn’t work well. In 2008, Heins was the last family member to manage Dean’s Dugout.

In 2009, the drive-in was leased outside the family and the name changed to The Dugout. However, it never opened in 2010 and has remained closed since.

This spring Skou and Heins put the Dean’s Dugout property up for sale, and recently the two reminisced with The Akron Hometowner.

The menu originally consisted of taverns, hot dogs and vanilla soft ice cream. Over the years, they changed from pan-fried hamburgers to flame-broiled hamburgers. Later, they added cyclones (malts with candy pieces); slushes (shaved ice with flavorings); and foot-long chili dogs. They were all hits.

Later favorites were Nacho Chili Dogs (chili dogs topped with nacho cheese) and Everything Sauce (ketchup, mustard and relish) and Onion Chips & Dip.

Their mom’s personal recipes were the Onion Chip Dip, Everything Sauce for hot dogs, and the hamburgers’ seasonings.

Both Skou and Heins began working at the drive-in at about age 12.

Heins, who is six years older than Skou, originally hated working at the restaurant because she
got stuck bagging French fries into single servings.

“We bagged fries in the morning, after lunch, and after supper every day,” laughed Heins. “I remember being there all the time. We’d have lunch at the drive-in, go swim at the pool, go to the drive-in for supper and go back to the pool.”

Skou remembers first pouring pops.

“One of my earliest memories was Mom told me to start the tavern recipe and she always did it on the grill in a big pot,” said Skou, laughing. “Mom went outside to do something. I put the coleslaw dressing and meat together so we had to start all over.”

The best part of being a family member working there is that you got free food and could make ice cream sundaes in any combination — not follow the rules.

One of Skou’s favorite concoctions became the Caramel Apple Cyclones — Granny Smith apples, caramels and ice cream.

They think their dad created Glaciers (half slushie, half ice cream).

Heins and her mother enjoyed cheeseburgers with tartar sauce and pickles.

Their mom used to have a list of all the employees that had ever worked there but it’s been lost over time. Their children, Seth Mortensen, Erin Robinson, Zach Moretnsen and Jennifer Stockman, were the fourth generation to work there.

“We used to have ‘family’ groups,” said Skou as the two named the Pridie sisters, Loetz girls, Shirley Nelson’s daughters and the Caskeys. Lucy and Babette Harris. Deb McPherson. Kathy Eden. “The majority were female. Usually there was just one boy.”

If mom let you go for certain reasons, more than likely she’d give you a second chance, said Skou, noting their mom only hired kids who were “busy” — they were more responsible.

“You had to learn to count change, which is a dying art,” said Skou.

“Mom always like the bills turned one way in the cash register,” laughed Heins, “and I’d mess them up. We had lots of fun but work always came first: counters cleaned; floors swept; garbage out.”

“You never ever shut the lights off if there were customers in the parking lot,” said Heins. “That would have probably been a reason to fire somebody.”

“The worst thing you could do was to forget to put something in customers’ bags,” laughed Skou, apologizing again to Ed Robotham for forgetting his chili dogs almost every time she worked.

“We had people who came on horseback,” said Heins. “I remember Chad Morehead went and picked up all the poop.”

“I loved working with Grandma Fern Klemme,” said Heins. “Just getting to spend time with her.”

Aunt Betty Orris, now Frerichs, remembered there were carhops when Dean and Betty first opened it, said Skou. She was working the night of the big tornado. The staff went to the nearby Jammerthals’ home basement before it hit. That’s also the year the back half of the drive-in was added.

The chili dogs were so sought afterward that there was a kid who broke into the drive-in and stole just chili dogs.

“You know who you are,” laughed Skou, “and so do we.”

They also remember an employee who also worked at Pizza Ranch. They’d make a swap. He’d bring us Cactus Bread and take back Malts.

One poignant memory for their mom and Heins was a jar of strawberry lipgloss. They kept it setting on a bathroom shelf as it had belonged to employee Lisa Oetken who was killed in car accident the Fall of 2002.

Probably the summer afterward another employee asked if she could use it, and both Michael and Heins burst into tears.

“Lisa was such a nice girl, spunky and full of life,” said Heins, “and her death was like a ton of bricks.”

A favorite customers was Jay Miller, who came almost nightly with his grandchildren or farmhands for ice cream treats. Akron-Westfield bus drivers used to bring their bus loads of children on the last day of school for treats.

Our mom had hoped to add a second story with indoor seating so she could be open year-round, said Heins.

“Just to see it in the shape it’s in now is sad,” said Skou, “but we couldn’t do anything with it until now. My hope now is that it will be sold soon.”

“I just don’t want the lot to set full of weeds, be an eyesore,” said Heins.

There’s no restaurant in town that makes charbroiled burgers, they said.

“The way to cook a perfect charbroiled burger is when you put it on, you leave it set until the juices form on the top and then you flip it,” said Skou. “You should only have to flip it once.”

“I’d like to see it opened as a coffee or ice cream place,” said Heins. “Just a gathering place. That was the best part about it. People sitting, talking, driving in. Socializing — without Social Media. Actually talking to each other.”

Janel Pearson of Next Home Realty is their real estate agent.

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