Welcome back to 1957.
There is Elvis on his guitar and Marilyn trying to keep her dress down. James Dean stands by the old Skelly fuel pump that sits against the wall. Also part of the decor are Coca Cola items, vinyl records, old school uniforms and – yes – neon signs.
Customers can take a seat on one of the red stools at the counter. Or they can try to secure the most popular booth, which sits in the corner – made from the back of a 1957 Chevy.
For nearly 25 years, the Neon 57 has been going strong in downtown Fowler – where Lynne Zortman and her husband, Dean, a tax accountant, are making sure no one forgets the era of poodle skirts and rock 'n' roll.
“I always liked the 1950s,” said Lynne, who was born and raised in the 1950s.
But the idea for a restaurant in the Meade County town of 550 came to mind in 1985 when the local mercantile shop closed – a place where residents could buy gifts and a sandwich.
“I wanted to open something then, but it didn’t work out,” said Lynne.
However, her dream came to fruition in 1993. The couple bought a building that had once housed a number of restaurants, and they cleaned it up and remodeled it. They had visited a number of 1950s diners, so they decided to focus the cafe’s theme on the era when they grew up.
Moreover, said Lynne, they chose, specifically, 1957 after the pale-blue 1957 Chevy that was pulled out of a creek bed and brought to town. They had the local body shop cut off the back end. They had it upholstered and repainted, turning it into a booth seat.
As far as New York City
The Zortmans first opened the Neon as a gift shop and offered a few pastries.
But as restaurants closed in Fowler, Lynne expanded her menu. Folks began to take notice of her home cooking – especially her homemade pies.
The word even made it as far as New York City.
In 2003, the Neon 57 drew national attention after the Zortmans’ daughter, Angie, entered her mother as the best cook in a "Today Show" Mother’s Day contest.
“She wrote up a deal about how I made pies and cakes,” said Lynne. “We got chosen to be on 'The Today Show.' ”
The national morning show featured the Neon and flew Lynne and Angie out for the taping – which featured Lynne making one of her pies.
“When we got back, the place was really hopping,” she said. “People from all over the country were coming after seeing it on 'The Today Show.' It was really kind of neat.”
Still a place for good food
Lynne admitted that after nearly 25 years of cooking, she'd like to retire in the not-too-distant future. For now, she stays busy with her noontime crowds, although through March she has closed the cafe so she can help Dean during the busyness of tax season.
They’d love to sell it, eventually, to someone who will keep it a cafe.
“I have kept it this long for the town,” Lynne said. “We don’t have a lot of things in town, and this is a place they can come for lunch, ice cream and desserts. Kids like to come after school.”
Things have slowed down since the "Today Show" craziness, but Lynne’s cafe was still lively at lunchtime on a recent day when many came for the lunch special – a chicken wrap and Lynne’s apple-crumb pie.
By noon, only a few seats were still open. June Glasgow of Meade traveled the short distance to Fowler for soup and a sandwich with a friend.
“Their food is wonderful,” Glasgow said.
Meanwhile, Patrick Green took a lunch break from his job at KJIL Christian radio to eat with his wife, Cindy.
“It’s the best place in the area,” said Patrick. “Lynne has a commitment to quality and the atmosphere is great.”
It’s also where their daughter, Cianna, a freshman at Barclay College in Haviland, works when she is home.
“This is a gem here in this area,” said Cindy.
Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel has been covering Kansas agriculture for more than 15 years. Email her with news, photos and other information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel's agriculture roots started in Gypsum. She has been covering Kansas agriculture for more than 15 years. Email her with news, photos and other information at email@example.com or by calling (800) 766-3311 Ext. 320.