JodeO’s is something special in the small town of Halliday.
It is a diner.
But much, much more, according to the owner.
By Brad Mosher
It is also one of the few places in western North Dakota which is participating in the state’s Eldercare pilot program named ‘Cafe 60’.
Jody Saari was almost on her way to Oregon when her boyfriend and soon to become husband got a job as a truck driver in the Bakken which drew both of them to North Dakota.
But when she arrived in 2010, it was only a short time before she found herself owning and operating the small diner on Halliday’s Main Street.
A Wisconsin native, she moved from Port Wing along the northern edge of the state on the shoreline of Lake Superior. “My boyfriend had come out and got a truck driving job. I was at that point in life where my daughter was on the coast was moving from that area, northern Wisconsin…and I was either moving and I was either going to go to the coast … or just going to move,” she explained.
“I came out here and I liked it. So I came out here and we found a place to live and got married.”
When it came to the restaurant being named, Jody said it was based on her nickname when she was growing up. “Everyone used to call me ‘Little Ode’ back in Wisconsin. My brother, Clark, would always call me ‘Jody Ode’ along with quite a few other friends. My boyfriend, now my husband, put my name down as JodeO – Jodeo Odegaard – and that is how it just became Jodeo,” she explained.
It was high winds in 2010 which prompted the move to Halliday. “We were living in Dunn Center in a camper,” she said. For her, that was enough to decide on making another move.
“I told him (husband) that it was moving back to Wisconsin or to out to Portland to be with my daughter.
“I said, we either find a house or I am leaving,” she added.
Her husband finally got a day off and the couple starting looking. When they got to Halliday, they stopped.
“We decided to take a little walking tour of Halliday. We came by here and there was a sign in the window,” she said, recalling her first look at the diner. “It said for sale. We were looking in there (pointing at a window) and saw it was a cafe. I said wouldn’t this make a nice big house – let’s buy this.
“So we made some calls and made an offer.
“In the meantime, we walked down and saw a bar on the left that was open,” she recalled.
Inside, they mentioned to the bartender that they were looking for a place to live. He made some calls.
“About an hour later, this gentleman comes down and tells us ‘my house has been empty for three years. He said I’ll show you, but it is just the way I left it.
“We went up there and looked at it,” she explained.
A short time later, the couple had made an offer on the vacant house, the second offer they had made that day.
A day later, the owners of the closed cafe accepted the couple’s offer.
“I said we’d better take this because we didn’t get anything in writing about the house. We’ll get it have my brother Pete come out who is a chef. He can come out, fix it up and get it running again,” she added. “He is also a carpenter.
“We took it and I felt I was just going to be managing, she added. “It started out that way.”
The next day after the couple put the money down on the cafe, they found out about the house. “He called up that day and said I got my insurance check and said that he would give it to us for nine grand if he could keep the check.
“I turned around and asked Duane now what are we going to do?
“We bought both in one day,” she added, “and the guy with the house said he would give us six months before starting to make a down payment.”
For the Saaris, it was a matter of timing. “He just wanted to get rid of it (the house) and they just wanted to get rid of this (the cafe)…. so that is how we got into the cafe business,” she added with a chuckle.
Her brothers came out to help prepare the old cafe for reopening. “My brother Pete did all the ordering and set up a menu and showed me how to do that.
“And we are still going,” she said.
“I liked to cook, but I didn’t know what it was like back there as a short order cook. It is a lot of work,” she said.
The cafe started in October of 2010 with a Wednesday special of roast beef. “When we opened, my prices were about three dollars less than they are now. The place was packed all the time and had to have four people working.
“I was like the hostess, coming out bussing, helping out at the till, doing dishes and the waitressing,” she said. “And then, helping the cook.”
But the booming times in Halliday soon ended.
“It went for about two month and then……. All the novelty was done and people started moving,” she said.
There was another turnaround in the oil field in 2011 and business started picking up again. We have two trailer parks here (in Halliday) and they were pretty much full. We had a lot of traffic.
“That lasted for about three years and then slowly went downhill,” Saari said.
One thing which has helped out in recent years has been becoming part of the state’s “Cafe 60” program, she explained.
“I have been doing ‘Cafe 60’ for about two years. The first year, it wasn’t many. Then last year, I kept pushing it and at any community meeting, I would go down there and talk about ‘Cafe 60.’ We put it in the paper and it started to pick up.
“Now, on Sundays, we have about 10 Cafe 60s that come in with church groups. Little by little, it is starting to get there.
“With Eldercare, we get most of our business on Sundays. We have about 10 other people who come in sporadically and another who comes in every day. So that is about 70 tickets per month for meals,” she said.
The Eldercare program for providing meals to seniors was brought to North Dakota after state officials saw it working on the east coast. Under the program, seniors have to sign up and then they are about to use a membership card to get a well-balanced restaurant meal.
The paperwork for the ‘Cafe 60’ program can be picked up at JodeO’s, the owner said. “All they have to do is make a phone call and they can do a little interview on the phone.
“They ask for a $4 donation and if you can’t afford the $4, they ask what can you afford,” she explained.
JodeO’s is the only location in Dunn County participating in the program. “There is only five Cafe 60s in North Dakota,” she said. The others are Buzzy Cafe in Beach, Hawks Point in Dickinson, JaBR’s Family Restaurant in Bowman and the 4 Corners Cafe in Fairfield.
According to the Eldercare program, there is a suggested voluntary contribution of $4 for a Cafe 60 meal, with an estimated senior meal cost of approximately $10.50 and a portion of Older Americans Act and state dollars used to help pay for the cost of the program.
The Cafe 60 program covers breakfasts, lunch and dinners.