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A recipe for success: Richville cafe owner creates 'A Little Summer Fun'

The Rockin' Horse Cafe and Wild Stallion Lounge has been a staple in the small town of 18 years. Now, to keep the customers coming, cafe owner Sandi Fithen has created A Little Summer Fun, events every Thursday in the summer. Submitted Photo1 / 2
Richville is hosting summer fun events each Thursday starting June 22, near the Rocking Horse Café/Wild Stallion Lounge. Among the activities are horse drawn wagon rides beginning at 11 a.m., and minnow races starting at 12:30 p.m., or watch cotton candy and snow cones made. Hot dogs, fries and root beer floats will also be served for $5. File Photo2 / 2

It doesn't take too much to make a small town: a post office, a liquor store, and a cafe are three of the more main ingredients in most Minnesota hamlets--and that's usually the way the locals like it. The tough part, though, is finding ways to encourage tourism and sustain those small-town businesses.

To keep one small-town business, the Rockin' Horse Cafe of Richville, alive, owner Sandi Fithen decided to get creative and make "A Little Summer Fun" for herself.

Humble Beginnings

The Rockin' Horse Cafe and Wild Stallion Lounge in Richville is the city's one and only cafe, and it's been around for 18 years now, but not without hard work.

"We started from scratch and built it from the ground up," said Fithen, adding that the cafe was her husband's dream.

"My husband decided I could cook and said Richville could use a restaurant," she added.

Starting the business was a challenge — Fithen had only ever been a household cook, but she agreed that a cafe was just what Richville needed. However, she knew she couldn't do it without her husband, Dave.

"I told him, 'Just remember, you're going to have to learn the kitchen'," she laughed. "And he did."

Dave became known as "the singing cook," belting out choruses and cranking out meals for customers and, for a while, the two enjoyed a bit of small-town fame. Fithen says they'd hear of people going on vacations as far as Texas, and if they sported their Rockin' Horse Cafe t-shirts, they'd be sure to meet someone who said, 'Oh, I've been there!'

Then, about seven years ago, Fithen lost her husband to a tough battle with ALS, and keeping the cafe running became a challenge yet again.

The cafe took another hit a couple years ago when the annual Richville Days stopped happening, and the number of Richville visitors began to shrink.

"It's hard on any small town because people start to forget that it exists," she said, referring to the lack of Richville activities.

Rumors have even begun spreading that the cafe is closed or about to close, and Fithen says that couldn't be farther from the truth.

Keeping the dream alive

To keep her and her husband's small-town dream alive, Fithin has cooked up something new: A Little Summer Fun.

Every Thursday, beginning June 22, Richville will have it's own fun days from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Complete with free pony rides, minnow races, and carnival games, Fithen hopes it will be a way to remind people that Richville (and the cafe) are still alive and kicking — and not too far from Perham for a day trip.

"So many people feel that we're so far away (from Perham)," she said. "But you can get from Perham to Richville in eight minutes."

Not too far to drive for face painting and a $5 hot dog and root beer float for lunch.

If that's not appealing, the cafe also has a variety of other eats--but they're known for their "yummy chicken," which is made with a special seasoning only found at the Richville cafe.

Small towns like Richville may not have much variety compared to larger cities, but what they leack in quantity, they do their best to make up for with quality, and they're sure to stick around if their secret recipes, summer events, and locals' dreams continue to bring visitors.