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TA Truck Stop's 'Grand Reopening' celebrates Hudson landmark's storied past

Michelle Bahneman, whose father Frank La Plante co-founded what is now Hudson's Travel Centers of America truck stop, poses for a photo in the restaurant's counter-service area with general manager Brad Low. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)1 / 6
The original owners of the truck stop were Ken Bonneville, left, Frank La Plante, whose names were combined to create the business's start-up name, "LaBon's." (Star-Observer file photo)2 / 6
In the early '70s, Pure Oil Company was the truck stop's gasoline, oil and automotive products supplier. (Star-Observer file photo)3 / 6
Michelle Bahneman points to a photo of the original truck stop's ribbon-cutting ceremony in 1969. The vintage photo is one of several in a second-floor hallway where there were once rooms for rent and other amenities for overnight guests. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)4 / 6
Michelle Bahneman in the main dining area with hostess and waitress Ann Hunt, who has worked at the truck stop since 1988. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)5 / 6
Waitress Jill Hansen, who has waitressed at the truck stop for more than 30 years, takes a brief break for a photo at the front dining counter. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)6 / 6

After 47 years of bringing smiles to folks in bell-bottoms, go-go boots, business suits, stage costumes, travel wear, prom dresses, work uniforms and God knows what else, Hudson's landmark TA Truck Stop has something special planned for early February.

Launched in July 1969 as LaBon's, the truck stop's Country Pride Restaurant will host a "Grand Reopening" Feb. 3-6 with plenty of reminders from its fabled past.

"We just remodeled the dining room, so we thought we'd have a party," notes longtime employee Brad Low, who has been the restaurant's general manager for the last four years.

"Keep in mind that when this was first built, there wasn't much out here. Pretty much everything you see all the way down the hill wasn't here at the time, so this place was booming."

Ever since -- through thick, thin and paralyzing blizzards -- it's been a haven for truckers, travelers and locals of all ages and stripes at 601 Brakke Road, just off Interstate 94's Highway 12/County Road U Exit 4.

"I remember the people and all the adventures we had," says 30-year bookkeeper Michelle Bahneman -- co-founder Frank La Plante's daughter -- who's been there all along in one way or another.

"It was almost like our own little world out here when we started."

The celebration will begin at 11 a.m. Feb. 3 with a Hudson Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau ribbon-cutting ceremony -- much like the first one for original co-owners LaPlante and Ken Bonneville, who combined their last names to create the startup moniker.

On Feb. 3-5, customers will especially appreciate the restaurant's throwback menu with 1970s prices: biscuits and sausage gravy for $2.98; full-stack pancakes for $2.50; the legendary "La-Bon Burger" for $3.99; the BLT sandwich for $2.89 and the stick-to-your ribs hot turkey sandwich for $5.49.

"Really, the throwback menu is very similar to the food we're serving now," Low notes. "That part hasn't changed all that much."

The festivities will conclude Feb. 6 with day-long $250 gift-card giveaways. Kids with a paying adult will also eat free all day.

"We've also been thinking that it would be kind of fun to have a sign-in for all the people who have worked here who come back for the grand reopening," Bahneman adds in an interview at the restaurant last week.

"I met my husband Steve here. A lot of people who worked here met their husbands or wives here. We had great malts and great hamburgers -- all the food was homemade.

"On Friday nights, I would be working when all my high school friends would come in. They would sit down and play their little salt-and-pepper-shaker and water-glass games at the table. Being the owner's daughter, I always had to set a good example. I had to act strictly by the book."

Getting to know you

That's just the memory-lane beginning for Bahneman, who's seen it all at the truck stop, which now operates as part of the nationwide Travel Centers of America network. The business has also been known as the Hi-Way Inn and Fulton's over the years.

The other jobs Bahneman has had at the restaurant since she started in her teens: dishwasher, prep cook, waitress, bus person and cashier.

Six of Bahneman's seven brothers and sisters worked there too.

"And I know that all of them have stories from this place of their own," she says.

Most of all, Bahneman remembers her dad, who passed away in January 1996. Bonneville died in the mid-'70s.

Before he and Bonneville started LaBon's, the two partners managed the onetime Tanners Lake truck stop near 3M until it closed in 1958 when the highway was reconfigured as Interstate 94.

Bahneman remembers her father searching for a new truck-stop location on the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River afterwards -- she was "10 or 12 years old" at the time.

"He'd sit out here to watch the highway traffic and try to figure out where to put it," she recalls. "Then, when they were building it, he brought us all out here and showed us what was going on."

From the first day LaBon's opened, La Plante always gave his customers family-style service, a tradition that lives on today.

"He was always out there greeting people and thanking them for stopping," Bahneman says.

"Dad was always helping the truck drivers too. If we were fixing their trucks, he would buy them dinner and do other things for them.

"He was always helping everybody, really. If a customer needed to go to the doctor and was stuck or whatever, sometimes he'd even drive them to wherever they needed to go."

Bahneman continues: "Dad would always find out something about the person and help them out. He was a Shriner, and one time a family stopped to eat here in really bad weather. He found out that they were taking their son to Shriner's Hospital, so dad called ahead to make sure everything was OK when they got there. He paid for their meal too."

Bahneman also remembers the close relationship her father and Bonneville had with onetime neighbor J.R.'s Ranch across the street.

"John Ross owned it -- they put on a rodeo there every June," she explains. "They both brought business back and forth to each other all the time."

Celebrities and locals

Bahneman still recalls all the prom-night crowds at the restaurant and the mid-'70s blizzard that forced the entire staff to stay overnight.

At the time, there were rooms for rent, showers, TVs and other amenities for truckers on the truck stop's second floor. Showers are still available for them there, along with with a large, updated TV room, video games and hallway photos of some of the truck stop's most memorable moments from the past.

Then there were the "at least two generations" of kids who flocked to the restaurant at Christmas time to meet Santa Claus until 2003 and the Friday-night fish fries, which are still a local favorite.

Bahneman notes that LaBon's was named one of Westwood Union 76's top 10 truck stops nationwide in 1976.

There were also celebrity diners, particularly at Minnesota State Fair time -- the Statler Brothers, Loretta Lynn and many, many others.

"It was always during either during the midnight shift or the early morning when they'd come in, and I'd see them at the front desk," Bahneman recalls.

"When the Statler Brothers came in, my dad asked them to sing a song, and he paid for their meals afterwards. I was even in Johnny Cash's bus one time."

Only once during the last 47 years did the restaurant close -- for a day or two during a nationwide truckers strike in the early '70s.

"Otherwise, it was 24 hours a day, every day," Bahneman says. "We're still open every day, but now it's from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m."

And the future?

"Business is good," Low says. "I don't see us going anywhere."

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

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