RAISING A STEIN TO GERMAN FOOD
Mike Guetter said that once he moved to Detroit Lakes in the 1970s, he couldn't find a good, authentic German meal anywhere.
But he also knew that with a population of 30 percent German-Bohemians in Becker County, there were other people around that would appreciate an authentic meal as well. He only had one problem.
"We've got the people. One problem though, I'm an OK cook. Randy's excellent," he said of his cousin.
Randy Guetter said that a little over 10 years ago, he and Mike were talking about something they wanted to do for the community. And thus the German Dinner was born.
Celebrating 10 years last weekend, the cousins, along with some help from family and friends, hosted their 10th German dinner in the basement of Holy Rosary Church.
The main point for them was that the dinner wasn't to make money -- it was about the meal and a good time.
"This was never intended to be a fundraiser and it still isn't," Mike told the 120 people who come out for the dinner each year. "We're just trying to have fun, have a good evening."
On the menu
"The older generation really liked it," Randy said.
Each year, Randy, who is in charge of the food, said he likes to mix things up, flip through cookbooks and check the Internet for something different on the menu. Since it was the 10th year though, he asked people from last year to vote for their favorite foods he's prepared over the years. So this year, it was the best-ofs, with one new dish, of course.
On the menus this year was pork tenderloin wrapped with stuffing, red cabbage, spätzle and some "jazzed up" bread. The new item was asparagus strudel.
Apple strudel and the highly coveted black forest cake finished out the dessert menu.
His mom bakes the cakes, which are on the dessert menu each year.
"There would be mutiny if (they weren't included) one year," Randy said laughing.
Randy said he does most of the preparation and a good portion of the cooking the night before the dinner. Saturday is for "fine tuning" and preparing the food that couldn't be made the night before.
He enlists a group of friends to help both Friday night and Saturday night.
"If it weren't for the crew, this couldn't happen," he said.
His wife, Tera, helps with the cooking as well, and the rest of the group stands back and waits for directions. Which, he admits, he's a bit of a stickler about.
"They call me sergeant," he said with a laugh. "I'm a little particular."
If the kitchen is Randy's territory, the dining room and logistics belong to Mike. He takes care of booking a speaker each year, making sure everyone is happy and having a good time -- which isn't a problem with spirits and laughter both flowing freely -- and keeps everything running smoothly.
On the night of the big supper, Randy holds a group meeting, telling everyone their responsibilities in the preparation line. He fixes a plate and shows exactly how he wants it to look before it goes out the door.
It's gotten to the point, he said, that it's not just about good food but also about presentation, too.
Each year, people at the dinner have first dibs on next year's tickets. There is a waiting list for any openings each year because the word is out this is the dinner party to attend.
It's not just about good food or entertainment or socialization, it's a mixture of all of them.
Many have asked why the two men don't open the partition walls of the church basement and open the dinner up to a couple hundred more people. But, they agree, it's cozier in the smaller setting, and they'd need a much bigger crew to serve that many more people.
Everyone associated with the dinner volunteers his or her time. From the kitchen help to the servers, ticket-takers to the entertainment. But, the workers have fun and keep coming back each year to help.
Mike said when they have to call and ask for help, there will no longer be a dinner.
It's a work-social event even for the volunteers, he said.
"Everyone stands around and visits."
While those attending the meal are visiting during social hour, there is German wine and beer for all and this year, as in the past as well, Jonathan Danielson and Rick Kratzke entertain with the accordion and guitar, respectively.
There are German songs -- that get pretty lively and loud -- and a prayer before the meal and a speaker after dessert.
They've had different speakers and subjects each year, ranging from Schell's Brewery to a look at why -- in such a German-dominated state -- Minnesota is known mostly for its Norwegian heritage.
Not meant as a fundraiser
"The first year we would have lost money. We weren't real organized," Randy said with a laugh.
Now that they have the dinner a little more organized, they have a bit more to donate. Just wanting to cover the costs of the night, the cousins charge $22.50 for all the German beer and wine you can drink, a meal, live music and a speaker.
Whatever money is left over at the end of the night is split between the Becker County Historical Society and the Becker County Food Pantry.
"We still go in the hole but..." Randy said. "It all works out well."
Mike said they chose those two charities because they have no affiliation, political or religious. Even though it takes place in the basement of the church, they never wanted it dubbed as a fundraiser for the Catholic church.
From the beginning though, excess funds raised have gone to the historical society.
With money from the last dinner -- and some other funds -- the museum was able to renovate a room at the back of the museum that's used for meetings, presentations and traveling exhibits.
"Each year we pick a project going on in the museum and it goes toward that," Executive Director Amy Degerstrom said.
"We're very proud of that," Mike said of helping fund the space.
This year, the funds will be used toward History in a Box, some movable cases that will showcase history that will travel to different area schools, she said.
After the economy took a big hit a couple years ago, the Guetters decided to split the proceeds between the historical society and the food pantry.
"It feels good to do those things too," Randy said of being able to give back to the community.
Both cousins said that before the meal, during the stress, they question if they can pull off another year. By the end of the night though, they know they'll keep on doing it.
"Good beer, good food, good company -- that's what the evening is about," Randy said.