Some old school diners say they treat you like family, but few will actually give you a good-natured teasing when you walk in the door.
“Have a seat anywhere, we’ll find you,” said Carrie Knipfer, co-owner of Sugar & Spice Eatery & Deli, as she greeted some new visitors. “You can’t hide that well!”
In Stoughton, Sugar & Spice Eatery & Deli is one of the “big three” locally-owned casual dining spots along with the Koffee Kup and the Sunrise Café. Sisters Carrie Knipfer and Amy Frane bought the tucked-away space from “Grandma” Marilyn Waltz 18 years ago.
Before that, it was a pizza parlor, and before that a motorcycle and bicycle repair shop. Knipfer and Frane have now owned the place longer than Waltz did. She was a local institution unto herself, and the sisters embrace their place in the fabric of the community with obvious care and affection.
Lining the walls are advertisements, photos, and other memorabilia from old businesses in the area, even milk bottles from long-defunct dairies like Alpine, Stoughton Pure Milk and Johnson Dairy.
“We used to have more time for antique shopping, estate sales, stuff like that,” mused Knipfer. “So it was fun. Now we work on awful lot so we don't get out and about as much as we used to. These are all original antiques here.
“When people sit here and eat and sometimes when they're waiting for their food to get up and walk around and look at everything and enjoy it.”
Each “big three” café comes complete with its own coffee klatch, and on that particular day Jim Hanson, who farms north of town, and Norvel Morgan, a retired grocery store manager were holding forth.
“We have a group of guys and maybe a few women once in a while who get together every weekday afternoon,” Morgan said. “Sometimes there's two or three, and sometimes there's eight or nine here around couple of the tables.”
Conversations run the gamut. At a nearby table, a customer regaled his tablemates about the marvels of his new Alexa device.
Since this was mid-afternoon on a Friday, I decided to split the difference between breakfast and dinner and order walleye and eggs ($13). The portions were hearty, and the delicate hand-dipped breading on the fish offered just the right amount of resistance giving way to the meaty flesh.
In another nod to its heritage, Sugar & Spice also has the Grandma Marilyn’s Special ($9), a heaping helping of breakfast sausage, sauteed mushrooms, peppers and cheese with hash browns and two eggs made to order.
Breakfast is served all day long at Sugar & Spice, which also serves a few hard-to-find items. In a town that proudly embraces its Norwegian heritage, preparing the traditional potato-based flatbread any other way but from scratch is unacceptable.
“We make homemade lefse,” Knipfer said. “I'm not aware of any other business in town that makes it from scratch like we do. We have people drive from 50 miles away to buy our lefse, and it gets sent all over the world.
“People send it to Iraq, things like that,” Knipfer added. “You can't send a birthday cake over there because it doesn't mail. But they'll send lefse.”
Sugar & Spice’s lefse is a touch of home that people who’ve grown up in Stoughton and move away call ahead to reserve when they come back for a visit.
“When they pass through town once a year [they ask] can you please have this ready for me?” Frane said. “We can usually accommodate to those people.”
The coleslaw and potato salad are especially popular. Demand got so high that 10 years ago, the sisters decided to build an addition onto their building to house a deli.
The Sugar & Spice sisters like the small town atmosphere they cultivate in their little hideaway diner.
“You get to know your customers by first name when they come in the door,” says Knipfer. “We do like that it's more of a family than just a business.”