Al Bergstrom, with a young family at home, took a job at the Dutch Treat restaurant in Dinkytown (where Vescio’s was located). The Dutch Treat at the time was serving cafeteria style meals with steam tables, et al, and not doing very well. As Al told the story, his arrangement with the owner of the Treat was that if he could double the volume of business that the Treat did, he would become a partner. As it happened, the business did double but the owner reneged on his agreement.
At the same time, a fellow named Bill was running a little “hole-in-the-wall” lunch counter across the street from the Dutch Treat, aptly named, “Bill’s Place”. Bill was serving full meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner out of his little fourteen stool restaurant. Just about the time that Al realized that his arrangement at the Treat was going nowhere, Bill decided that he had lost interest in his tiny restaurant and wanted to sell.
Bill’s Place was squeezed in between two neighboring buildings, Simm’s Hardware and what would become the The Podium in the 1970’s. It was not a “real” building as it did not have its own walls, only a floor, a roof and a front and back. In fact, in the 1930’s the space it occupied was a narrow alley that led behind the store fronts along 14th Avenue S.E. It was up that alley that an earlier, and much younger, version of Al had driven a yeast truck for Anheuser-Busch delivering to the bakery down the street. It was not until 1938 that the former alley, having already been closed off and roofed over by Simm’s Hardware, first became a restaurant, “The Hunky Dory Lunch”. Eventually, the little lunch counter kept adding space on the back end until it was a full 79 feet long and 10 feet wide, its present dimensions.
Anyway, getting back on track, Bill’s desire to sell and Al’s desire to buy was a match made in heaven. Al bought Bill’s Place on 15 May 1950 and renamed it, “Al’s Diner”. He kept the place open, like Bill had, for breakfast, lunch and dinner…full line menu. There was a bank of ovens in the cramped back kitchen for evening meals of, for example, roast pork served with mashed potatoes and gravy, and a vegetable.
He also kept an innovation that Bill had come up with…meal books. In the 1940’s, there were tenements across 15th Avenue that housed mostly workers, many of whom worked at the New Brighton Armaments (?) factory. Because some guys seemed often to run short of money at the end of a pay period, Bill decided to sell them meal books, essentially pre-paid charge accounts, so that if they ran out of money before payday, at least they would have something to eat.
By 1961, Al was running out of steam. Even with his wife, Ev, at home with their children handling the bookkeeping and some shopping, running a full line menu seven days a week was driving him to the brink of a breakdown. Further, at the time there were more than twenty diners and lunch counters in the four facing streets that constituted Dinkytown; it was a very competitive field. With counsel and encouragement from friends and family, Al needed to cut back; a big change was in order. He and Ev recognized that many of his customers were ordering breakfast throughout the day, making it by far his most popular meal, so with that in mind, he decided to forgo the full line, three meals/day schedule and offer breakfast only---and only from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. This was a big risk at the time as there were no other diners in Dinkytown trying to survive on breakfast alone. Thus, Al’s Breakfast was born.
And, survive it did. In fact, the little restaurant that sits on the edge of the Great Prairie began to thrive. Customers lined up behind each of the fourteen stools to wait their turn. Eventually, the waiting line went out the door and down the street---even in winter. With things looking very good, Al’s was still open seven-days-a-week. Al even kept the place open on holidays so that customers, like out-of-town students and faculty of the university, who had no place to go would have a place to go. And, as word got around, the only open breakfast restaurant in Dinkytown was busy on holidays too.
Then, as Al was nearing sixty-years-old, again after consultations it was decided that he needed to close the shop one day a week for rest. However, soon the question was, what day should he close? Al decided to ask his customers to vote for the day. He thought that, hopefully, this would ensure that the chosen day disrupted as few lives as possible. And so, by the will of his customers, Al’s Breakfast was closed on Mondays. This schedule was maintained until Al retired on July 1, 1973.