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Denison’s legendary Cronk’s Cafe has served its last meal

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Cronk's Cafe has stood along U.S. Highway 30 in Denison, Iowa since 1929.

(KTIV) -- It's the end of an era in Denison. After more than nine decades, one of the most well-known restaurants in all of western Iowa has closed its doors.

For Cronk's Cafe, it was as much about the fellowship as it was about the food. For 91 years, it has stood just feet off of U.S. Highway 30. One of those old Route 66-type eateries, known far and wide.

"This sign hung over a barn out on Highway 30 in Wyoming," said owner Eric Skoog, as he pointed to a rusted, bullet-riddled steel sign brought to him by a trucker.

Cronk's Cafe started in 1929 as a place to feed weary travelers on one of the country's earliest coast-to-coast roadways. Over time, it just kind of became the place to go for good company.

"You name it, we've probably done it," said Skoog. "Banquets, galas, funerals, weddings."

And good old American food.

"Tenderloins. Pork tenderloins. We do those. And broasted chicken, our biggest thing for us here."

But the biggest-seller: the quintessential hot roast beef sandwich.

"Two scoops of mashed potatoes, two slices of white bread with shaved roast beef, slow-roasted shaved roast beef on there and we smother it with brown gravy, beef gravy," he said as he laughed. "And we just sell it more during the summer. People say, 'We can't get this in Omaha', 'We can't get this in Des Moines.'"

With it's lunch counter seating, vinyl booths, and round wooden table in the corner where 23 old-timers would nurse cups of coffee all morning, this is a real slice of Americana. The kind you don't see a lot of any more. And there's the lounge where stars in town for the old Donna Reed Festival would spend late nights. And don't forget the Angus Room, where overflow crowds would come for the famous Sunday brunch.

And it hasn't just been a dining mainstay, here on U.S. Highway 30, the Lincoln Highway. For decades, Cronk's has been a standard stop on the presidential campaign trail through Iowa.

"Oh man, we can go back to McGovern, Jackson, Barbara Bush was here," Skoog said.

"Joe Biden was here!" reminded Skoog's wife Terri. A framed front-page newspaper photo of Biden visiting with Eric Skoog at Cronk's during the 2008 campaign hangs near the entrance to the restaurant.

"Is Cronk's non-partisan?" Skoog is asked.

"Yeah", Skoog says with a laugh. "I give 'em all the same rate."

Eric and Terri Skoog have been the owners and the face of Cronk's for 41 years. They had recently started discussing retirement. The coronavirus shutdown sealed it for them.

Was it a tough decision to make?

"Yeah," Terri Skoog said. "There were some tears shed."

Ah, but the memories they've made. And, the friends.

"We miss them all," said Terri Skoog. "They were a part of our life. And that part's gonna be tough, but, it's a good thing."

And the end of an era for an eatery that has been a go-to for good home-cookin' for nearly a century.

Cronk's is named after the original owner, L.J. Cronk, who opened it in 1929.

There have been several owners since then, but they've all kept the name. Eric and Terri have put the restaurant up for sale. They're hoping somebody will buy it, reopen it, and keep the Cronk's name going.

Al Joens

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