After brief hiatus, longtime Andes Lake restaurant owner partners with couple to reopen Inside Scoop – Mitchell Republic

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth article in the 2022 Battle of the Eats series, which features stories about favorite small-town restaurants as voted by Mitchell Republic readers. The series will end on Saturday, August 27.

LAKE ANDES — Cindy Mengenhauser has tried to ditch the restaurant she helped turn into a Lake Andes staple over the years, but she can’t seem to stay away.

The longtime owner of The Inside Scoop in the Andes Lake was in the process of selling her restaurant this year to a group of new owners by way of deed. Mengenhauser had no intention of returning to the restaurant business when she handed the business over to her daughter and another owner who changed the menu and name to A&A Eatery Apothecary. But an unexpected career move by her daughter brought Mengenhauser back into the kitchen in late July.

After about a year hiatus, Mengenhauser and The Inside Scoop were back. The same was true for signature culinary favorites like the ultimate chili cheese dog, chislic beef basket and breakfast burritos.

“It’s a special place for me and I never want to see Andes Lake without a great restaurant in town. I definitely missed it all,” she said of The Inside Scoop.

Although Mengenhauser restructured the restaurant in much the same way it did before A&A Eatery’s brief run, a young couple — who locals have come to love over the past year under A&A Eatery ownership — have brought a new culinary touch to the establishment which is located along Highway 281.

With over a decade of experience in the food and hospitality industry, Joey Opheim and Carynn Blaha know what it takes to run a successful restaurant. After all, the duo helped guide a number of Sioux Falls restaurants and dining establishments to new heights in recent years before transplanting them to the small Andes lake town.

Joey Opheim prepares peppers for the day Wednesday, August 17, 2022 at the Inside Scoop at Andes Lake.

Adam Thury/Republic Mitchell

When Mengenhauser reopened The Inside Scoop a month ago, she named Opheim and Blaha as managers. Like Mengenhauser, Opheim and Blaha were on their first break from the restaurant industry before plunging back around a year ago when they moved to the Andes lake to work at A&A Eatery – a stark contrast to city life. they left in Sioux Falls.

“We lasted six months away from this world before a phone call asking us to work for A&A Eatery. We came here to help them make it work, and we’ve been here ever since. We hadn’t even met (Mengenhauser) before we came here,” laughed Opheim. “When she took over, the three of us were like, ‘OK, let’s go.'”

The dynamic trio bring their areas of restaurant expertise to The Inside Scoop. Opheim, who is primarily responsible for the popular cuisine served, has infused his culinary expertise into the daily specials and brought new items to the menu.

As she has done throughout her life in the hospitality industry, Blaha maintains the friendly and welcoming atmosphere, while providing what Mengenhauser says is the “best in customer service.”

The wide variety of cuisines and desserts served at The Inside Scoop are well known in the Missouri River town, and 92-year-old door host Harold Miller is just as famous as the food.

“When my dad (Miller) is here, he always strikes up conversations with everyone who walks through the doors. I’m sure some customers come over to see if he’s there to chat about baseball and whatever else,” Mengenhauser laughed.

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The Mitchell Republic will feature readers’ favorite eateries and eateries in small towns in the ongoing feature film Battle of the Eats.

Although Mengenhauser brought back his signature items, some of A&A Eatery’s Opheim-inspired dishes made their way onto The Inside Scoop menu, such as vegetarian salads and The Ashton – a sandwich made with artichoke dip. with spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh mozzarella nestled on ciabatta bread.

“We’re bringing more modern things to the menu, while keeping the basic home-cooked meals and specialties that are enjoyed by so many people here,” Opheim said. “From switching to fresher ingredients to adapting to cooking new ingredients, we have rock stars here who have made the transition great.”

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The Inside Scoop logo along the restaurant doors.

Adam Thury/Republic Mitchell

With a name inspired by ice cream, The Inside Scoop’s desserts are so popular that some customers replace their dinner with ice cream blizzards and homemade cheesecakes.

The variety of cheesecakes are made daily from scratch using a secret recipe in Opheim’s Vault. Opheim takes a lot of time to make the cheesecakes – which requires letting them cool for 20 hours before serving – he said “it’s worth every minute”.

Committed to providing the Andes lake with a restaurant

Mengenhauser’s journey into the restaurant world began a decade ago when she purchased the building that once housed Moe’s Place and Melmers Drive In. After Moe’s Place closed and left the town without a restaurant, Mengenhauser couldn’t bear the thought of the community being left without a dining establishment. In 2014, the community once again had a place to dine when they opened The Inside Scoop.

“I tried to help build this town, but damn it, you need a restaurant to do that,” Mengenhauser said. “We didn’t have a restaurant in town and we’re the Charles Mix County seat. I always felt like we had to have one.

She developed a passion for cooking as a young child growing up in Canova, where she learned the trade from her parents. It was then that she learned the art of South Dakota cooking and baking.

“Growing up, you had a home-cooked meal every day. And lots of pastries. I wanted to give that to the community,” she said. “To do that, you have to love to cook.”

For about five years, she operated the restaurant with her late husband, Mark Mengenhauser, in the old Melmers Drive In building, which was much smaller than the existing building. As it began to suffer from asbestos and became too expensive to pay electric bills, she closed it in 2017 and built the restaurant in a new location along Highway 281 the following year. .

With a larger building that could accommodate double the number of customers, Mengenhauser and a family member ran the new restaurant until the 2019 flood. What was supposed to be a strong second year of operations at a new place became what Mengenhauser called “the toughest year” she had ever had running the company. The flooding caused the closure of part of the highway that serves as the main corridor for his restaurant.

“Many customers are traveling from towns in the region, and the flooded roads have largely stopped that. Many people come and go from the river to fish. The floods that year also did a lot of damage,” she said.

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The interior of the Inside Scoop which sits along Highway 281 in Lake Andes.

Adam Thury/Republic Mitchell

Following the flood, another disaster struck: the pandemic. Like many dining establishments, The Inside Scoop closed the dining room during the peak of the coronavirus in 2020.

The drive-thru window proved to be a saving grace. And that allowed the company to keep its staff and make a profit.

All the hardships she’s faced over the past three years couldn’t diminish Mengenhauser’s passion for the business and feeding the Andes Lake community.

His return this summer is proof of that.

“I wasn’t sure what more I could take after these years. But the people we see and the smiles they get when they eat here make getting through the tough times worth it,” she said.

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