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It may be a quiet Sunday morning for everyone else, but for the ladies of Mama’s & Nana’s Café in downtown Neligh, it’s anything but sleepy. Inside the downtown Neligh landmark one will find Susan Mickelson, Lori Dexter, and Sheryl Casas hard at work, industriously serving up their signature breakfast dishes to hungry locals.
On Monday, when the trio sat down to visit with ACN, it dawned that they’d reached the two year anniversary of owning their business.
On April Fool’s Day 2014, seeing that longtime Neligh staple Daddy’s Café was up for sale, Lori recalls jokingly saying, “We oughta buy it.” So they put in an offer, which was accepted. Suddenly, they found themselves proprietors of their own restaurant. The coworkers quit their other job that same day.
Dauntless, they set to work and were able to open on April 23rd—not as Daddy’s, but as Mama’s & Nana’s.
Dexter, Mickelson, and Casas are longtime standards in the food service industry. Together, they have 109 years’ worth of experience. Dexter amusedly points out that she remembers the advent of sliced bread. Working at the bakery across the street from Mama’s when she was just 13, she recalls the day that the owners brought in the new-fangled bread slicing machine. “It was the greatest thing,” she laughed.
Now, they focus on breakfast food, filling a needed niche in the community for a good, sit-down breakfast. Patrons particularly love their signature best-sellers, The Skillet and The Stacker—diced ham, smothered with cheese and 3 eggs over American fried potatoes or hash browns. They also serve up daily lunch specials, and recently added dinner specials on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
Mickelson, who handles the grill back in the kitchen, points out that they make everything fresh. Casas singlehandedly focuses on the restaurant’s other popular menu item—the fresh, homemade pies that are baked almost daily. Surprisingly, Casas developed this particular skill set only two years ago, when she taught herself the intricacies of pie-making.
Fast forward to today, Casas now rolls out enough crusts for up to 15 pies per week, filling them with fruits or creams, and topping them off with meringue or lattices, as the occasion calls for it. Pies may be made to order, and happy pie recipients faithfully return their glass pie plates to the restaurant, because that’s one of the great things about owning a business in a small town.
Other advantages? “It’s nice being right here in town when my kids need me,” says Mickelson. “We get to know people so well—and often have their table set up for them and their order ready before they even get in the door.”
Mickelson also likes to be able to check in on her 107 year old neighbor frequently. “We bring her lunch every weekend, when home health isn’t able to be there.”
With any venture, there are challenges. Preparing food for a packed house can be stressful. Waiting on a large number of people may be even more trying. “Everyone, at some point, should have to wait tables,” posits Dexter, with a smile. “It’s a humanitarian thing.”
Looking ahead, Mickelson hopes to have a bigger grill. The three also hope to add a broaster to their assets, and offer a buffet on weekend nights. Until then, Mama’s & Nana’s runs like a well-oiled machine.
Good naturedly ribbing one another as we visited, it’s easy to tell the women enjoy one another’s company. “It’s a good thing we get along so well, because we spend a lot of time together!” Mickelson laughs. “We just click.”