Hillsboro Banner: Life fries at you fast

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A craving for french fries and an unexpected phone call changed the lives of Paul and Terra Provost.

The Halstad, Minn., couple recently signed a purchase agreement to become the new owners of The Hillsboro Cafe, which closed in late October at 3 N. Main St.

The reopening of the cafe remains about a month away, the couple revealed in a sit-down interview late Wednesday afternoon inside the once-bustling diner.

Cooks and servers need to be found. Supplies and ingredients must be ordered.

And breakfast and lunch menus have to be hammered out before the restaurant can toss open its doors and welcome back the farmers and early risers who were fixtures inside the Main Street cafe.

The Provosts have an extensive background in the hospitality industry but no previous ties to the community – so the odds of the couple buying a bistro in Hillsboro were never high.

But that changed when Terra, who works as a naturopathic doctor in Fargo, had a hankering for fries.

“I was craving french fries one night and I thought ‘There has to be a place around here that serves them,” Terra said.

“I was literally looking up any place that carried french fries online when I came across The Hillsboro Cafe. ‘Oh, there’s a cafe.’ ‘But their website says they’re closed.’ ‘Oh, but they’re for sale.’”

Her online french fry-fueled investigation prompted Terra to call Paul out of the blue with an impromptu pitch to buy a cafe.

“That was a roller-coaster of a conversation,” Paul said with a laugh.

In the past

A native of New York Mills, Minn., Terra, 39, was attending medical school at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in the Phoenix area when she met Paul, 31.

An Arizona native, Paul was bartending at the Waterfront Bar and Grill in Peoria, Ariz., when Terra picked up a part-time gig as a server at the bar a couple nights at week.

“We worked together for three and a half months but I thought she hated me,” Paul said. “I couldn’t make her going-away party so I told her ‘Let me take you out to dinner.’ It was my way of saying goodbye. It turned into six hours because she thought I was hilarious.”

Terra landed a job at a practice eight hours west and the couple continued to date, but she had no designs on raising a family amid the hustle and bustle in California.

The Provosts  relocated to Horace, N.D., southwest of Fargo, married in 2018 and purchased a farm 5 miles northeast of Halstad in Norman County, Minn.

Paul said the couple had been considering opening a coffee and bistro bar and had a site picked out in Horace prior to the start of the global pandemic, but COVID-19 scuttled those plans.

The couple kept their business plan, which gave them a head start when they started taking a serious look at buying the cafe in Hillsboro from previous owners Derek and Kate Ehnert, who operated the restaurant for four years prior to its closing in October.

March opening

The Provosts have penciled in late March for a soft opening at the cafe with a full-scale opening to follow in early April.

Other than finding employees, the hefty lifting to make the cafe a viable business was taken care of by the Ehnerts the past four years, Paul said.

“They did a really good job on building up this place,” Paul said. “There’s very few things we want to change. The aesthetics will mainly stay the same.”

However, one modification the couple has planned will be adding a deep fryer – so people like Terra can pick up an order of fries without having to buy a small-town cafe.

“I figured if I can’t find french fries I’d make my own,” Terra joked.

In addition to a deep fryer, Paul said they’d like to add more seating at the cafe’s front counter.

The menu, especially this spring, will feature many of the staples offered by the Ehnerts.

“We want to keep as many of the local favorites as possible and build up from there,” Paul said.

The restaurant will be open Tuesday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch and keep the same general hours that the cafe had previously, Terra said.

Settling in

Paul and Terra have been getting a handle on their inventory the past week since signing the purchase agreement to take over the business.

They’re still making contacts with food suppliers and touching base with potential employees, including one of the cooks who worked for the Ehnerts the past four years.

Terra plans to keep her full-time job as a licensed naturopathic doctor at Crossroads Vitality Natural Health in Fargo but help out at the cafe when time allows.

She’s been a prep cook in a restaurant and a fry cook at a bowling alley and those experiences will come in handy at the cafe, she said.

Paul said he’s looking forward “to the chaos” that’s inherent in operating a restaurant.

His background as a bartender and previous stops at a variety of restaurants – he served as a manager at The Tavern Grill in Fargo – have made him accustomed to working in a fast-paced work environment.

“I’m excited to start. I’m used to being spontaneous and I kind of thrive in chaos,” he said.

Operating The Hillsboro Cafe – they plan to keep the name – seems like a less-risky venture than their bistro plan in Horace, but that doesn’t mean the couple won’t have first-day jitters when they open, he said.

“It’s all happening so quickly so I’m a little nervous because it’s becoming more real,” he said.

“We really are excited to be part of the Hillsboro community. All we ask is that everybody be patient while we get the tread under our feet and work with us until we can better accommodate everybody.”

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