Land of 10,000 Stories: Epiphany Diner prepares for last supper

9:44 AM, Aug 29, 2011   |    comments
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Epiphany Diner breakfast special

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- We like beginnings - the first strip of bacon on a hot grill,  the promise of a morning prayer. What's difficult is the beginning of the end.

"It's the last first day," says Rhonda Dillon as she rallies her volunteer troops before the gates open at the Minnesota State Fair. Her zest turns somber for a moment. "So this is it," she says.

The Church of the Epiphany took over its state fair dinning hall from another church in 1966, when pocket change paid for a dinner, and no one imagined the church would eventually decide to shut the dinning hall down. 

"When I started at the parish eight years ago we always knew that someday we might have to face this decision and I had always hoped it wouldn't be on my watch," said Father Dennis Zehren, pastor at Epiphany.

The building needs a new roof. The oven needs replacing, as does the dishwasher, the fryer and the compressor for the walk-in cooler.

Even if the church could have managed the repairs, it is not about to alter the changing tastes of fairgoers.

"Pork Chops and chicken on a stick; they're not sitting down to meals," says Mary Beth Ineson, who coordinates the 750 volunteers Epiphany needs each year to run the dining hall.

With ever-busier family schedules, her job gets tougher every year. "Even right now we're a hundred short," says Ineson as she runs a cash register at the counter.

They are problems Epiphany is not the first church to confront. At one time, more than 20 church dining halls fed the stomachs and the souls of state fair-goers.

Next year Hamline Methodist and Salem Lutheran will be the only two left.

"We're going to miss this place," says Kathy Theline as she and her husband Cliff continue their long fair tradition of breakfast and Epiphany.

"You can get a breakfast here for what a hotdog costs down the street you know," says Cliff.

While that hotdog may come with ketchup and mustard a meal at Epiphany is still delivered at the counter by a volunteer calling out your name. 

The building's new owner plans to showcase Minnesota wines at the fair. "If Jesus turned water into wine, I suppose we can turn our diner into a winery," smiles Zehren.

Barb Johnson is glad she volunteered for a shift early in the run of the fair, "Because there will be tears the last day."

It is true that we like beginnings, but those who've come to love the Epiphany dining hall cannot put aside the fact that first breakfast - will be followed by the last supper.

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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