By Tyler Ellyson Columbus Telegram, Neb.
There are businesses branded as family restaurants.
Then there's The Grapevine in St. Edward, where four generations of the same family work together to create a home-like atmosphere for diners from both near and far.
Owner Shelley Cruise opened the business at the corner of Beaver and 12th streets in September 1997, after her son graduated high school and she could give up her full-time job as a stay-at-home mom.
Cruise always enjoyed cooking -- she often prepared the food for bull sales -- and opening her own restaurant was a dream.
That dream became a reality thanks to some family connections.
She rented and renovated a small house along Highway 39 and eventually purchased the property from her in-laws.
The restaurant is close to Cruise's home and right across the street from the house where she was raised, which is important since her mother plays a key role in the day-to-day operations.
Shirley Hasselbalch makes the short trip to the restaurant around 7:30 each morning to set the tables and lend a hand where she can.
The 95-year-old doesn't do much cooking these days, outside of preparing her special gravy for hungry guests.
"It's kind of a family recipe," she said. "I'm known for my gravy. I'll put it that way."
Instead of standing over the stove, Hasselbalch handles tasks such as peeling potatoes, washing dishes and serving as the unofficial greeter at the small restaurant.
"I enjoy being here and meeting the people," she said.
Cruise's daughter Torrie Reardon, who lives a few blocks down, also works at the restaurant two days week and her children -- 6-year-old Macy, 11-year-old Neal and 15-year-old Tyra -- help out during the summer months.
The children, who grew up with the restaurant once fitted with a baby bed, learn responsibility by serving meals, clearing tables and taking orders, Cruise said, and they're rewarded with tips and free food.
"When they go back to school, we really miss them," said Cruise, who only has one other regular employee.
The Grapevine only seats 30 people, giving the restaurant a "grandma's house" feel that's reinforced by decor that changes with the seasons and, of course, the presence of two grandmothers.
Cruise prepares the food, nearly all of which is made from scratch, using two household stoves and slow cookers. There are no commercial ovens or fryers inside the small kitchen.
There also isn't a set menu -- except for Wednesdays, when pan-fried chicken is served.
The Grapevine offers three homemade choices each day: a heartier entrée like meatloaf, pot roast or chicken fried steak; a sandwich, wrap or panini and a salad, casserole or other lighter items.
Each item is paired with a choice of salad and variety of desserts that often utilize in-season fruits.
Cruise also makes fresh rolls every morning.
"She's kind of famous for those," her mother said.
Cruise said most customers call ahead to find out what's being served that day. She also added an outside menu board for passersby to see.
The Grapevine has its share of regulars, including women's clubs and families that meet there, as well as those who make a point of stopping by the restaurant while they're in town visiting relatives or simply passing through.
There's a good amount of carry-out business, too, particularly this time of year when farmers are busy in the fields.
Cruise believes her restaurant plays an important role in St. Edward, a community of about 800 residents that's down to less than a handful of dining options during lunchtime.
The Grapevine is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, but Cruise closes the restaurant from January through March so she can help her husband Denny with the family's Angus herd.
"They can't wait until we open," Hasselbalch said of customers following the winter break.
Cruise recently used funding from a local facade improvement program to replace the siding and windows and add a new sign at the restaurant, but she has no plans to increase its size as some people have suggested.
"For the most part, this is the right size," she said.
There are others who wonder why Hasselbalch doesn't retire instead of waking up at 6 a.m. to work at her daughter's restaurant.
Her answer is simple.
"Why should I?" she said. "I'm having fun."