After Five Supper Club is a decades-old institution in Madison, with a reputation for its steak cubes and salad bar. When it went up for sale about four years ago, buyers were scarce. Finally, After Five found new owners last year and reopened with splash in this city of about 1,400. Anne and Aaron Kells purchased the restaurant with help from Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF), the Lac qui Parle County Economic Development Authority and the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission.
“After 20 years behind a desk, I was looking for a change,” said Anne, who worked in accounting. “It has always been our dream to own a place where friends and family can gather together over a home-cooked meal. And this community has been amazing and so supportive.”
Anne is the business manager at the supper club, and Aaron runs the kitchen. His previous experience is mostly in carpentry, but he’s always loved to cook. The Kells met as students at Lac qui Parle Valley Schools (LQPV) and have been married 20 years. They have two sons who both help at the restaurant. Korbin just finished his first year at Alexandria Technical College studying law enforcement, spending his weekends in the front house at After Five. Kyson prefers the supper club’s kitchen, and he constructed the industrial wooden hostess stand for the restaurant as a class project at LQPV, where he’ll be a senior this fall.
With their sons getting older, plus Anne’s family in Appleton and Aaron’s family in Madison for support, the time felt right to take a chance on their dreams and buy After Five in the summer of 2018. When Anne asked about loans at a bank in Montevideo, the lender connected her to SWIF.
Loan programs have been a key function of SWIF since its inception to support communities and businesses throughout the region. When SWIF honed its focus in 2016 to closing the opportunity gap for 11,000 southwest Minnesota kids living in poverty, its longstanding loan programs remained a key part of the “Grow Our Own” work. Growing and sustaining businesses keeps rural Minnesota vital, a great place to live and somewhere with employment opportunities for parents and individuals.
“The retention of businesses is critical for local vitality and for advancing economic development in our region. We are very excited to have been a part of this exciting business retention and renovation project and to work with great entrepreneurs like Anne and Aaron who retain jobs, create fantastic places and invest in our communities,” said SWIF Vice President Scott Marquardt.
Val Halvorson, Madison’s city manager, appreciates having SWIF as a partner in this and other projects in the community.
“They understand that communities in the region are all different, and they want what’s best for each community,” Val said. “The foundation brings a lot of experience to the table, and they know rural is important, that we all need to support each other. It’s a good organization to work with.”
A spot to celebrate
When the doors reopened at After Five in October 2018, “it was a mad rush,” Anne said. Diners were greeted by a totally renovated interior in an industrial style. Anne was grateful for her brother-in-law’s help decorating, including the modern palette of neutrals and wood tones paired with navy blue.
“We definitely wanted it to have a whole new look and feel. It was a family effort in every sense. We had so many family helping,” Anne said, from designing a logo to sheet rocking.
Many of the restaurant’s former furnishings were saved and refinished; other items Anne hunted down for a deal on the Internet. Four long-time staff also stayed through the transition and were critical in helping Anne and Aaron get on their feet. There are about 12 staff on a typical week working several shifts.
The Kells’ largest investment at the supper club is a new smoker, which has beefed up the menu with prime rib, brisket and pulled pork. Aaron’s specialty walleye cakes are on there, too, with flaked walleye, wild rice, Italian shredded cheese and green onions.
Since opening last year, After Five has seen an average of 100 people come through its doors each night Wednesday through Saturday.
“It always depends on what’s going on in town,” Anne said, whether that’s a local ball game, a race at the track or a family session at the local photography studio. “It’s amazing to me all the things we have in Madison. We all benefit from one another.”
Val, the city manager, characterizes the local business community as well rounded, with strong sectors in agriculture and government.
“People can usually find what they need in town. And business owners are very willing to listen to suggestions. They’re responsive to what people want,” Val said.
She called After Five a town staple, noting it started in 1960 and was originally called Stubs Supper Club. It’s had several names but has been After Five Supper Club the last 21 years. Aaron and Anne are the eighth owners at this institution that draws diners from miles around in addition to local folks. It’s not only perfect for a quick bite after a baseball game, but also an inviting place to sit, visit and celebrate: “After Five is the place you want to bring your family for a special occasion. It’s kind of the anniversary and birthday spot,” Val said.
Anne adores being that place people come to celebrate – a 92nd birthday, a first date, even prom. After Five hosted LQPV’s prom dinner in May for 109 students, including Kyson (pictured on the right with Korbin).
“It was fun to see them all dressed up,” Anne said. “It’s been fun to bring up our boys in the same area we grew up. I love small towns. There are a lot of caring people, and I’ve always gotten the sense they want us to succeed.”
Since its founding in 1986, SWIF has distributed more than $78 million through its business finance and grantmaking programs. Find out more about our business development programs and how we can help with your project.