Hugs on the menu as flooded diner reopens

5:23 AM, Aug 20, 2012   |    comments
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BARNUM, Minn. - In the age of fast food and instant breakfast, two teenage boys sit in their cars patiently waiting for the reopening of their favorite place.

"I love coming here in the mornings," says Brandon Newman.

"It just hasn't been the same," adds his buddy Daniel Warpula.

The "Open" sign flips on and finally, seven weeks after a flash flood soaked downtown Barnum, Lou's Rustic Diner is open again for business.

Newman and Warpula are each greeted with a kiss on the forehead and a smile too bright for the early hour.

"Want a cookie?" asks Robin Paulson, who runs the diner with her husband Lou.

She is mother to neither boy, but, in one way or another, Robin is "mom" to everyone who enters Lou's Rustic Diner.

The flood left two feet of water in Lou's, and the Paulsons with neither flood insurance nor money in the bank for repairs.

Sometimes Robin still melts into tears when she thinks about what happened next.

"We couldn't have done it without everybody," she says.

The water was still receding when Lou's customers returned to their daily gathering place -- to work.

Bob Minkkinen and his high school classmates came because they couldn't image a Barnum where senior and teenage citizens don't sit down at the same breakfast table, where Robin's husband Lou isn't in the kitchen of the cafe he purchased at 19 and where a kid never learns how tough it can sometimes be to get Robin to accept payment for his pancakes.

"I don't know what we'd do without Lou's," says Minkkinen who shoveled mud from the café after the flood and later returned to help grind floors.

Contractors donated labor and materials. Lou's brother built a new wood bar. But then giving is nothing new at Lou's.

As the flood consumed his business, Lou was busy helping evacuate a nearby senior apartment building. Donated food from the diner helped feed volunteers and displaced residents at a temporary community kitchen in the days after the flood.

We heard dozens of similar stories amid the cafe chatter: hospital visits to customers by Robin, a down-on-his-luck student whose college tuition the Paulsons paid.

Finally, in a cascade of cards and donations, the community had an opportunity to repay their debt to Robin and Lou.

Janice Larson wrote a check for a thousand dollars to help pay the renovation at Lou's.

"Barnum can't be without it," she said.

Another customer wrote a check for $5,000.

The other day, when Lou wasn't looking, someone dropped cash through an open window. Lou chokes up at the thought of it.

"Five-hundred, a thousand dollars, who do you say thank you to? You don't know. It's everybody."

So if Robin's hugs, from this point forward, last a little longer, the customers at Lou's Rustic Diner have only themselves - to thank.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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