Couple brings family-style diner to Lake Mills community

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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By Ayanna Eckblad

LAKE MILLS — Two weeks ago, Scarville couple Kevin and Jolene Grothe opened their new restaurant, Grothe’s Diner Crumble Burgers and Malts.

The 1950s-style diner, at 108 S. Lake St., is owned and operated by Kevin and Jolene, and their three daughters work there as well. But for the family, the diner is about more than just serving food.

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Jolene Grothe completed alcohol abuse treatment during Thanksgiving of 2023. One of the things that she lamented over during treatment was that there was no place in Lake Mills for families to go and have fun that didn’t revolve around alcohol.

“We haven’t had just a diner or some sort of cafe in the town,” Jolene said. “It’s been quite a few years. We have, like the bars and grills in the town and that’s it.”

When Kevin sold his business, Don’s Motor Mart, he and Jolene decided that now was the time to make their business idea a reality.

They purchased the old Napa Auto Parts building and began making plans for what kind of design and feel they wanted for the diner. In the past, they had worked for the Grand Cafe in Lake Mills before it closed around 10 years ago. This, however, would be their first time owning a restaurant.

“I like the retro, ’50s, cute kind of design,” Jolene said. “On a graph piece of paper I drew out the design for the place, so watching it go from a graph piece of paper to a print from the lumber yard to this has been absolutely amazing — just watching each step of it, it’s kind of surreal.” She said things have gone smoothly and they were able to complete the buying and construction process in about four months.

During remodeling, the Grothes tried to source help locally, hiring electricians and plumbers from Lake Mills and getting much of their supplies from Singelstad Do It Best Hardware in town.

“We all support each other,” Jolene said.

On opening day, the Grothes saw overwhelming support from the community.

“The first day we were open we filled up all the seats, and we fit 80,” Jolene said. “And we had people waiting, and we had people out the door so people were pretty excited for the startup.”

Kevin added people have been very patient and understanding of the fact that both the Grothes and their employees are learning as they go.

“It’s been amazing, the feedback we get,” he said.

“I think people have been waiting for something like this in this town for a long time,” Jolene said. “There’s just not the family-style place to sit and be really comfortable and enjoy without alcohol. … I think it’s something the community has craved for a long time, and is new and exciting.”

Not only did the Grothes want a family friendly environment for customers, they also wanted a place that young people would feel safe working at. Right now, the restaurant staffs 19 people, most of them teenagers.

According to Jolene, many of the new employees have never worked as wait staff before, so she has had her hands full training everyone. She is hoping that as her staff becomes more accustomed to working at the restaurant, she is able to give some of the responsibility and longer hours to them.

The Grothes are planning on having their diner involved in July Jubilee coming up this summer and are considering holding class reunions at the diner as well. Jolene also would like to remodel the back portion of the building so she can hold a recovery group there. Currently, people looking to be part of a recovery group have to travel anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, but Jolene is hoping she can change that.

“I want to be able to provide that service, too,” she said.

The Grothes extend a big thanks to everyone who has come to support Grothe’s Diner and want people to know that they truly appreciate everyone’s ongoing patience.

“It will only get better in time,” Jolene said.