Then & Now: More than 'OK'

This is a view of the new exterior of the OK Cafe at 1622 N.
St. Joseph Ave. adjacent to the old Union Pacific Railyard May
27, 1955.

Then: On any weekday in the 30's and 40's, the small café on North St. Joseph Avenue near the railroad tracks was packed with Union Pacific rail road employees and their families, huddled into booths and lingering over plates of pan fried chicken.

The warmth of the home cooked meals and friendly service ladeled generously from the cafe's small kitchen had been gaining a positive reputation in Hastings, both with rail road workers who could smell the chicken frying from their posts in the nearby switch yard and other folks who wanted to see for themselves if the café would live up to its tasty reputation.

In those days, it was mostly a working man's joint—a place for rail employees to rest their feet and fuel their joints between shifts. Union Pacific even subsidised the café to feed railroad personnel, who often walked over from the UP freight yard that sat between Minnesota Avenue and East Side Boulevard. During WWII, Hastings was a division point on the railroad and crews stopped in at the café on their lay overs.

By the 50s and 60s, the railroad was cutting back on its service and the train crowed thinned out. But the OK café had already garnered a diverse following of customers that stuck with the restaurant like grease on a griddle.

Now: There is something about pan fried chicken from the OK Café that leaves one salivating—on both flavors and memories—for long after one has left the table.
"I'll tell you, you just can't quite cook it the way it was cooked at the OK," said Mary Jo Randolph, co-owner of the café with her husband Pat from 1974-2012, as she reflected on the things she misses most about the restaurant.

"I went through withdrawls," she said, describing how she felt after the café closed in June 2012 after 85 years of service. "Every Sunday since we first owned the restaurant I think I had pan friend chicken."

To read more, see Friday's Hastings Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.>>>

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