There Are Tears at the End of the Rainbow

Minneapolis Star - May 16, 1979

By Karin Winegar, Minneapolis Star Staff Writer

"After I get through crying I'll do one more payroll," said Edna Pence, manager of the Rainbow Cafe, a Minneapolis landmark that closed yesterday.

Pence has worked at the cafe at Hennepin and Lake for 16 years, "since I was a baby-- half my life almost," she said.

The Rainbow was founded in 1919 by the late Christ Legeros.

Legeros' three sons, George, John and Conn Legeros, sold the business to Bob Sabes, owner of the Stillwater Freight House. Sabes plans to remodel the 300-seat restaurant and reopen in mid-June.

The Rainbow is being sold, said John Legeros, "because the business and building needed some capital improvements and we didn't want to make them."

The Rainbow never would have opened at all if Christ Legeros hadn't been accident-prone, according to his son George. As a busboy in Milwaukee hotel in 1919, Christ Legeros was fined for every dropped plate. One day he shattered an entire rack of them, panicked, jumped down the kitchen laundry chute, slid down a floor and took a train for Minneapolis.

In Minneapolis, Legeros got a job at the Radisson as a waiter Eager to make an impression on the manager, he came early to do extra chores, including dusting the Czech crystal chandelier in the dining room.

As Legeros dusted each prism, he rotated the chandelier to reach the next one. He finally unscrewed the whole massive fixture, which crashed to the floor. The horrified Legeros took off again-- but this time he started his own restaurant, the Rainbow Cafe.

The Rainbow is one of the last and largest family restaurants in the Twin Cities. Its late hours have drawn the post-theater crowd and its homey ambiance has made families and the elderly feel at ease.

There are cozy Naugahyde booths, placemats with puzzles for the kids, art deco ventilators and a strike marine mural left from a 1941 remodeling.

For years one of the first aquariums in town enlivened the Marine Room, but when the Legeros brothers entered the service during World War II, there was no one left to take care of the fish.

"I cooked them myself a couple of times-- $50 worth of tropical fish, boiled because the heaters weren't very good then," George Legeros said. "So I put salmon salad on the menu the next day," he laughed.

The paintings on the walls are by local artists. They're for sale, but the Rainbow asks no commission. They are part of a monthly display which George Legeros started in 1949.

"In 1947 I saw paintings hung up in the Esquire Theatre in Chicago and liked the idea. When we started having shows, there was only one gallery in Minneapolis. Now there are over 50. And we've sold over $100,000 worth of art in here," he said.

The stars of the Rainbow menu are hamburgers, homemade soups and hard rolls. It has strictly grandmother-style home cooking-- hash, Irish stew and chops.

The Rainbow's other ornaments are its waitresses-- patient, silver-haired professionals with names like Rose, Hermina, Dorea and La Vaughn. Some of the total staff of 75 hope to stay on after the remodeling, but a few have made other plans.

"Let 'em learn the hard way," said one staff member about the new management. "I'm not gonna do them any favors."

Waitress Mabel King considers herself "a new girl." She has only worked at the Rainbow for 13 years, while Hulda Westgard is a veteran with 39 years to her credit. Ruth Scheftel, the accountant, has been with the Rainbow for 54 years, but she's casual about her record. "It's nothing, really. I jus wanted a summer job while I went to college, but I stayed on," she said.

"I grew up in here," said Amanda Lillard, who has been a Rainbow waitress for 29 years. "I'm glad they're closing 'cause it's the only I'll get out of here other than in a box. Oh, I quite twice, but I came running back before they had a chance to miss me."

On the Rainbow's last day of operation, Edna Pence was slumped in a booth at the back with cashier Allie Ebner. Ebner was due at the cashier's desk, but she said, "I just can't stand up there and take money while I'm crying."

"The last few months in here there's been a feeling like you're waiting for someone to die. But we were afraid to talk about it or we'd cry. We just all love each other," Pence said. "And anyone I hired either fit in with the family and stayed here forever or they didn't. Course, there's a lot who wanted to quite, and I told them they couldn't, so they didn't."

A steady stream of old customers came in throughout the day to wish the Legeros brothers well. Bertha DuKart, a customer for a quarter of a century, fluttered up and kissed George Legeros on the top of the head. There were tears in her eyes as she said, "It will never be the same, no matter who takes it over. The new people won't mean a thing to me. Now, George, don't be surprised if I call you at home."
 


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