August 16, 2012 | Volume 124, Issue 28

Lou's Diner: A community miracle

Escape with Eddie

This is a story of community and what it means to the small city of Barnum. It is also the story of Lou, Robin, and Amber Paulson who own Lou’s Diner.

Eddie Pelkey
Front: Amber, Jamie, and Steve. Back: Cat, Robin, Marlene, and Lou. Unavailable for photo: Jacob, Kathy, and Eileen.

When Lou Paulson opened Lou’s Diner, The Rustic Inn, he was 19 years old. At the end of July, Lou is celebrated 34 years of business. At the time of the anniversary, the diner was in a state of renovation. Lou’s Diner is in the process of being brought back to life in the center of Barnum. For the truth is, the diner is a focal point of connection for the residents of this city.

The main junction at Highway 61 and County Road 6 was under water after the torrential rains this summer. Every business — the city office, the Barnum Muni, apartment buildings, Leslie’s Hair Styling, C&C Builders, Ozzie’s, Thompson Motor, Berube Motors — was inundated by water. Homes were lost, dreams were shattered.

Recently, on a sunny day in August, Robin sat outside the diner. The exterior of the building was being repainted by two industrious workers. Inside, there was a hum of activity as employees began the job of putting things back together. As family members put the finishing touches on the renovation, everyone else was washing tables, chairs, shelving, and putting restaurant equipment back in place.

“People have been amazing," said Robin. "After the flood, two young men in the community came in and said, 'Let us help you.' This was the beginning of the cleanup. Most of the labor has been volunteered. A friend of Lou’s has a son, who owns an underlayment company in the Twin Cities. The son’s supplier donated all the materials to renovate the underlayment and the flooring for the diner. His employees donated the labor.”

“We own the house behind the diner; it was also flooded and full of debris. Kids from the community came in, usually five to eight every day, and asked what they could do to help. These kids carried out debris, they crawled into filthy places to clean it out, they sanded floors, and they did everything they could think of to help. These are wonderful kids; these kids also went to the command center at the church every day to see what they could do to help members of the community. They went door to door offering help. Our community future is the kids,” said Robin.

“The day the people who rented the apartments across the way had to be moved out, Lou and Amber were on the front end loader. Schaefer Construction Company supplied the equipment. All of those people being rescued knew both of them, as Amber grew up here. It gave these displaced people comfort to see someone they knew helping them. After they were moved to the dry ground they were taken to B&B’s by I-35.”

Robin continued, “This is not about Lou’s Diner, it’s about this community. If it were not for people in the community donating time and money and materials, we would not be able to open again. There are two girls who came in every day after school. They were in seventh grade at the time. They would sit at the counter coloring and having a cookie. We try to treat the kids with love, and it’s quite common they don’t get out of here without a hug. During this stressful time, these kids showed how much they cared. It says a great deal about the community and reflects on how they were brought up. The real story, is why did they want to help everybody?"

The answer may be that “these kids are committed to their community and their neighbors.”

The diner is almost completely renovated. The employees are putting all the equipment back into place. Robin, Lou, Amber, and all the employees hope to be open sometime this week.

“There are no words big enough to say Thank You," said Robin. "We are all taught that to give is a blessing. It is hard to learn how to receive, but it is important. You learn humility. There is no way to repay kindness, but there is something you can do. You can pay it forward.”

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