MANKATO, Minn. - Like a spoon-toting Lady Liberty, for 50 years the Happy Chef has welcomed visitors to Mankato.
For the last 20 - silently.
But no more.
Last Friday, the kitschy 38-foot statue got his voice back.
“Enough is enough,” laughed Adrian Swales, who bought the Happy Chef restaurant last year, and found himself regularly answering questions about the mute statue.
On Monday the fiberglass chef was back to welcoming customers and serving up cheese.
“I'm so old my social security number is one,” the talking statue proclaimed.
“It kind of makes everybody smile,” said Berry Conley, a regular at the Happy Chef.
Gone is the broken push button, replaced by new wiring and a motion detector. The chef was also given a new coat of paint, all in time for his 50th birthday.
“Hey, can you help me out?” asked the Chef’s recorded voice. “I've been holding up this spoon since 1968.”
Mankato’s Happy Chef was both the first in the country and the last. The chain grew to nearly 50 restaurants - mostly in the upper Midwest - before closures left just one location: Highway 169 on the north edge of Mankato.
“It is a generational Icon for Minnesota,” said Swales, who worked at the Happy Chef before purchasing it.
Swale recruited Ben Findley, a nearby print shop owner, to lend his deep voice to the chef.
“It’s been an icon for many years and to have the opportunity is fantastic,” Findley said. “My friends are sure getting a kick out of it.”
Happy customers, happy owner, Happy Chef.