September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
The restaurant in Rollingstone, Minn., celebrates national dairy month with a promotion - anyone who purchases a meal receives free milk or ice cream to go along with it.
"It's fun to give everyone ice cream and see them smile," said Bonnie Wardwell, who owns the café with her husband, Dave. "And lots of people love chocolate milk because they don't drink it as often at home."
Customers have their choice between white or chocolate milk, or ice cream - a drumstick, bowl of ice cream or ice cream sandwich.
Not only is the dairy industry one the Wardwells are proud to honor every June, it's one the community celebrates, too. Local dairies and area farming-related businesses donate money to the café to support the month-long promotion of free ice cream or milk and keep it going each year.
"I like to support the small-town community and show support for dairy and farmers in general," said John Speltz, who supports the café's promotion and is a dairy farmer from Altura, Minn.
He thinks promotion of dairy is important even beyond June.
"It let's everybody know what products are out there and available, especially ones that are healthy and nutritious," he said.
Speltz is one of about nine dairy farmers who donate to the café and one of about 35 businesses that participate. To recognize these sponsors, the Wardwells display the names of the farms and businesses on a space above the grill, which is visible to the entire restaurant.
"People like to come in, look at all of the names on the wall and say, 'I'm having ice cream on so-and-so today,'" Wardwell said.
It's been a tradition that has continued for the past 25 years since the café opened in 1990.
"We inherited it," Wardwell said about the promotion. "The guy who owned the Red Rooster (restaurant) in Altura didn't want to do it anymore and said we should do it."
It was an easy decision for the Wardwells to take on the promotion of dairy during June.
"I've got roots on the farm," Wardwell said about why this promotion is important to her.
Wardwell grew up on a dairy farm and the couple dairied on their own until 1980.
"We liked the lifestyle and wanted to raise our kids on the farm," Wardwell said. "That was our dream."
But dairy farming didn't quite work out the way they imagined.
"Instead, we got a café," said Wardwell, who has worked in the restaurant industry since she was 15 years old.
With Wardwell's restaurant experience and Dave's love to remodel, the couple took the chance to buy the café when it came for sale in 1990.
"The place was run down when we bought it, but we were looking for something we could do together," Wardwell said.
Since then, Bonnie Rae's Café has operated in the same building in the small town of Rollingstone. Although not a farm, the hours and work ethic needed to make it run are the same as a dairy.
"It really keeps us tied down," Wardwell said.
To keep the café running smoothly, the Wardwells hire others to help, including their daughter, Crystal, who works full-time. Beyond those three, there are four other part-time employees.
During the earlier years, the Wardwells said nearly 90 percent of their customers were farmers or people who worked for a farm-related business; however, now that number has dropped to about 30 percent, another reason the June Dairy Month promotion is important. Wardwell said the café is constantly drawing in more families, too.
Beyond the free milk and ice cream, the café also has a lot of dairy-filled recipes on the menu. A best seller recently has been their deep fried cheese curds.
"We're fussy about our cheese curds," Wardwell said.
Broccoli cheese soup and a cheese-filled breakfast skillet are two more popular options with dairy along with cheese bombs - tater tots with cheese in the middle and served with sour cream for dipping.
"We also serve more cheeseburgers than we do hamburgers," Wardwell said.
But people seem to really enjoy the national dairy promotion the café runs, especially family.
"My grandkids love June Dairy Month," Wardwell said. "My freezer is full of dairy treats."[[In-content Ad]]
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