Cannon Falls, Minnesota
Nestled along the bustling Highway 52 between Saint Paul and Rochester, Otto and Marie Hernke’s modest roadside diner, the Edgewood Cafe Motel, became an enduring culinary institution. Marie’s homemade pies, including the renowned lemon meringue and peanut butter delight, drew travelers and locals alike. With its mid-century charm and popular lutefisk buffet dinners, the Edgewood grew to become a top 5% gross profit earner among Minnesota restaurants, pulling in over $1 million in revenue by its closure in 2000. This is the story of a family business, culinary passion, and a legacy etched in homemade goodness.
The Edgewood Cafe Motel was a family restaurant in the truest sense of the word. It was operated by two generations of the Hernke family and served fresh homemade food daily that made customers feel like they had a place at the family’s dining room table. When the family left the business in 2000, subsequent owners could never quite capture the pure alchemy that Marie Hernke created in the kitchen.
Otto and Marie Hernke moved from Wisconsin to Cannon Falls, Minnesota, in 1946. They purchased a tract of farmland near Otto’s brother, Alvin. Marie quickly grew restless on the farm and dreamed about opening a restaurant. So Otto, with the help of Alvin, built her one in 1952.
The restaurant was built on a well-traveled route between Saint Paul and Rochester, now Highway 52. Marie ran the kitchen and created most of the recipes. For many years, the family lived in the basement below the restaurant. When the motel was added, they moved into a family unit.
The interior of the restaurant was pure mid-century diner goodness. Cherrywood paneling on the walls, two horseshoe-shaped counters, checkerboard floors, and Formica tables with metal legs. Cigarettes and candy could be purchased at the register.
Everyone who ate at the Edgewood remembers the pies they served. Marie created each pie recipe using her favorite cookbooks as a guide and adding her own touches to them. By far the most popular was Marie’s lemon meringue pie, but the peanut butter delight came in a close second.
The restaurant attracted travelers between Iowa and the Twin Cities; many made the Edgewood a regular stop. Locally, their lutefisk buffet dinners were popular with lines stretching out the door and into the parking lot.
The restaurant grew to be in the top 5% gross profit of all restaurants in the state and claimed over $1 million in revenue by the time it closed in 2000.
Marie worked at the restaurant until she was 81. By then, each of Marie and Otto’s three children had grown up working at the restaurant, and it was eventually taken over by their son, Don.
Marie was inducted into the Minnesota Restaurant Hall of Fame in 1995. That same year, Otto passed away. Marie passed away in 2015. The couple left behind three children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and a legacy of creating fine homemade food in a comfortable setting.
Marie Hernke’s Lemon Meringue Pie
- 1½ cups sugar
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- 1½ cups water
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 1 – 9-inch pie shell
- 3 egg whites (about ½ cup)
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon water
- 6 tablespoon sugar
- In a saucepan, mix the sugar and cornstarch; gradually stir in the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.
- Boil for one minute. Slowly stir half of the hot mixture into slightly beaten egg yolks. Blend that into hot mixture in saucepan. Boil one minute longer; stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat; continue stirring until smooth. Blend in butter and lemon juice.
- Pour into baked 9-inch pie shell.
- For meringue: Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and water until frothy. Gradually beat in sugar; continue beating until stiff and glossy. (Do not underbeat). Pile meringue on top of hot lemon mixture; seal meringue onto the edge of the crust to prevent shrinking and weeping.
- Bake in a 400° oven until the color is a delicate brown (8 to 10 minutes).