Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 19, 2018

Empty Nest: From Hog Lot to Restaurateurs

By Curt Swarm

A herd of hogs paid for their wedding.  So why not have a wedding picture taken with the hogs?
Bruce and Laura Blankenfeld, true-blue Iowans from Grinnell, did just that on their wedding day, 38 years ago.  Following the wedding, there was a family gathering at Laura’s parents’ farm house.  Laura was still in her white wedding gown and train, and Bruce was in his white tux.  Laura’s father said it was time to do chores.  Bruce, a man not afraid to get his hands dirty (and needing a
break), jumped at the chance to help.  Laura, a farm girl that didn’t back down, hollered, “Wait for me!”  The wedding photographer, sensing a photo op, tagged along.  Voila!--Just-married Bruce and Laura Blankenfeld were photographed in their wedding whites, in the middle of a herd of hogs.  No, this was not photo-shopped.   
Fast forward to today, this classic Iowa picture is framed and hanging in Bruce and Laura’s restaurant, West Side Family Restaurant, in Grinnell.  Oh, there are other nice photographs, of Grinnell in the early days, but this hog-lot/wedding picture is the centerpiece.  
When Bruce was 12 years old and working at the A&W in Grinnell washing dishes, he told the owner he was going to own it someday.  Years later, the owner of the A&W approached Bruce and said, “The A&W is for sale.  Want it?”  Bruce jumped at the chance.  Laura cried for two weeks, but then rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
They enclosed the drive-in portion of the restaurant to make a dining room.  It was called the Tiger’s Den.  They used paper plates and plastic silverware.  Customers would bring in their own cups and dinnerware.  
One customer liked to put spoons in people’s shirt pockets.  The people would wind up at home with a spoon in their pocket.  As a prank, Bruce and a number of customers took spoons to the guy’s house and planted them in his garden.
Bruce and Laura leased the restaurant out for a period of time, then took it back.  They missed the people.  The West Side is well known for its coffee, which they grind themselves.  And pies.  Homemade pies.  Laura didn’t know how to make a pie, but got tired of the quality of pies they were buying.  Once again, she got to work.  Their pies are so well known now, that customers order them in advance for special occasions, like Thanksgiving and family gatherings.  One customer brings in her own pie tins so that her friends and family think she made the pies.
In this era of fast food, the West Side’s customer base is their strong suit.  It’s not unusual for a customer to eat three meals a day at the restaurant.  If they don’t see one daily customer for a day or so, they call her up to make sure she’s OK.
The West Side’s waitresses have been there forever, one 11 years.  During the summer, Bruce and Laura shut down for a week and give everyone a paid vacation.  At the 30th anniversary of the restaurant, former waitresses came back for a surprise celebration.  Bruce and Laura’s son, Matt, who manages the restaurant, met his wife there, one of the waitresses.  Customers bring in knickknacks, like salt and pepper shakers, for decoration.
There are two banquet rooms, one that will hold 72 people.  Visiting basketball teams to Grinnell College reserve the banquet room to feed their hungry players.  They know they’re going to get good home-cooked food at the West Side.  Prime rib is just one of the specialties.  And for breakfast there’s the famous, prime-rib omelet, that was Matt’s invention.
Back to the picture—they took it down once, and customers asked, “Where’s the pig picture?”  
Of course, they have a great tenderloin!

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com