Finding the 1930s Dodge Cafe
A small town detour and mini investigation
In early April 2021 I was days away from an out of state move. Instead of packing, I took an extra day off work to drive to Austin, Minnesota, which is about a two-hour drive from Minneapolis. It was a long-intended research trip for the graphic novel I’m working on and I needed to make the trip before I was 1500 miles away from Austin instead of just 100.
I took the back roads as I tend to do and passed a sign for Dodge Center, a small town of 2,737 people. I had a quick internal debate on whether or not to take the detour and decided to go for it.
The thing with Dodge Center is that it is also a part of the story of the graphic novel—my grandma and her parents owned a cafe there in the 1930s. I had always wanted to find the building that had been the Dodge Cafe and now I wanted to include an image of the exterior in the story.
Things were quiet when I arrived in town. In fact not one person was on Main Street, which was somewhat intact if you didn’t consider that every single facade had been significantly altered. One of these buildings had to have been home to the Dodge Cafe.
Looking from one side of the street to the other, it occurred to me that I’d recently snapped some old photos while I was packing and had added them to Evernote—which meant they were in my phone for reference. I opened the app as I stood on the sidewalk and found these:
I looked back and forth from the old photos to the buildings around me, wondering where the cafe had been.
It wasn’t as obvious as I’d expected it to be, but by the time I left my bet was on the building with the white door and panels:
A closer look at home made me think I was correct—one little architectural detail had survived all of the mucking with the facades over the decades. If you look at the detail circled in yellow…
…the same detail can be seen in the photo from the 1930s...
Confirming this was such a delight—and for an unplanned stop it was an incredibly productive one.
When I visited Dodge Center, I’d already done a drawing of the cafe using generic Main Street buildings but had never been happy with it. With the photos I took that day I started over and completed something that takes some liberties but is based on the real deal.