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Hillsboro Cafe celebrating one year, expanding its hours

HILLSBORO, N.D. -- Kate and Derek Ehnert met in the break room at a Perkins in Fargo. She was a waitress who had just graduated high school, and he was a restaurant manager.

The Hillsboro Cafe in Hillsboro, N.D., is celebrating its one-year anniversary. Photo by Bonnie Meibers/Grand Forks Herald
The Hillsboro Cafe in Hillsboro, N.D., is celebrating its one-year anniversary. Photo by Bonnie Meibers/Grand Forks Herald

HILLSBORO, N.D. - Kate and Derek Ehnert met in the break room at a Perkins in Fargo. She was a waitress who had just graduated high school, and he was a restaurant manager.

"I cornered him by the water cooler and told him to take me out on a date," said Kate, who's now 36.
"And here we are," Derek, 43, added.

On Oct. 9, the husband and wife will celebrate the one-year anniversary of their very own restaurant-the Hillsboro Cafe.

In their first year of running the cafe, they've learned a lot of lessons. The most important ones, the Ehnerts said, are to adapt to change and that they can't please everybody.

"Nothing is written in stone," Derek said. "And even if it is, we break the stone all the time."

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They used to have a Suggestions box sitting on the counter at the restaurant, and they tried to meet every suggestion.

"We got burnt out doing that though, so we've decided that we're going to do things that are our style and be true to ourselves," Kate said.

The Ehnerts are also learning what they're good at. Learning to be bosses, learning to juggle inventory, learning to market the cafe.

"It's amazing that we're still open. It blows my mind," Derek said.

Hillsboro had a Subway and a Burger King before the Hillsboro Cafe opened last year.

"The community needed something like this," Kate said. "And they have been so supportive of us. They're proud of this place, they bring their friends from out of town in here and show it to them."

Kate's mom, Gail Mooney, who helps out in the cafe occasionally, said the cafe has become a gathering place in town.

The cafe is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. M-F and 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. It's closed on Saturdays.

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But the cafe is expanding its hours to be open on Friday evenings until 8 p.m. Oct. 5 will be the first Friday the cafe is open that late.

"We know we're missing a part of the community by not being open in the evenings," Kate said.

Hillsboro High School gives the kids only 20 minutes for lunch, Kate said, so many of them will call ahead to be able to have their lunch waiting for them when they come in.

One Friday before a game, some boys on the football team came into the cafe for lunch. It was so busy with other customers that the Ehnerts made the football players late getting back to school.

"We called the school and told them it was our fault and not to get the boys in trouble," Derek said. "That's the kind of stuff you can do in a small town. That's one of the reasons we moved here."

Before the cafe, Kate and Derek lived in Plymouth, Minn. Kate was an accountant, and Derek was a caregiver.

"The city was a lot," Kate said. "Our jobs were a lot."

They were looking to move out of the city and to a small town.

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"We wanted an adventure," Kate said.

Kate is from Hillsboro; her mother and step-father still lived there. So, the Ehnerts landed in Hillsboro.

"I thought I knew how to work hard, but I had never truly worked hard until I started my own business," Derek said.
Inside the cafe, that hard work has created a cozy and welcoming atmosphere. There are mismatched plates and coffee mugs on each table; there are blankets, paintings and signs hanging on the bare-brick walls.
A group of eight gray- and white-haired men sits at the table right inside the door, their big voices filling the dining area.
There is no television in the cafe, and that's on purpose, the Ehnerts said. "We don't want people arguing over Fox or CNN," Derek said. "We don't talk about politics or religion in here. We leave all that at the door."
"This place is for everybody," Kate said.

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