Cooking Up a Perfect Storm

By: Nate Furler, Marketing and Outreach Manager

Whether you refer to it as the Deli or the Café, one thing is for sure – you won’t go hungry on options for a great meal at the Water Street Café.

Starting at the Co-op in the summer of 2007, I was privy to the previous kitchen arrangement of the Co-op sharing a space with Waving Grains Bakery in the main level of the Armory building in downtown Decorah. (And it was a delightful space shared with great people). However, the idea of having more space and more equipment is enough to make any home, let alone professional, cook salivate. We planned for growth and inevitable change, and here we are over seven years later – weathered, humbled, and optimistic for yet another expansion.

I grew up with a certain idea of what a buffet-style meal could be – and it wasn’t very high up on my list. But, that was before I ate at a food co-op with a hot bar and salad bar.

There have been talented and creative cooks here at Oneota, and today is no different. A recent management decision has allowed for a new chapter in the evolution of the Water Street Café – welcoming not one, but two managers to oversee the efforts of this “Café within the Co-op”.

Leah King came to Decorah in 2008 by way of attending Luther College. At that time she was pursuing Communication and Media Studies. The summer after her freshman year at Luther she began working at the Co-op and her niche remains at the Co-op today. She has also “gotten her feet wet” by way of La Rana Bistro, Dug Road Inn, and other local caterers – but she calls the Co-op kitchen home-base.

Leah views her upbringing as growing up in a culturally food-oriented household. She watched Jacques (Pepin) and Julia (Child) as a youngster and made fresh ravioli with her mom and dad.
Being a vegetarian for nearly 13 years, Leah easily falls for a beautiful basket of Co-op produce, with visions of simple magic and caramelization that allows the true beauty of the food to shine with minimal effort. But don’t get the wrong idea, because Leah lacks no creativity in the kitchen. She even recently (2014) placed first runner-up in the national Wisconsin Grilled Cheese competition with her Gown-Up Grilled Cheese – featuring a feta-walnut spread, Wisconsin mozzarella, and sherry/herb roasted tomatoes on sprouted wheat bread. We offered this grilled delight on the Café panino menu shortly after the (near) win, and I am sure it will make a return appearance sometime soon.

Our co-manager in the Café is the former owner and chef of Quarter/quarter in Harmony, MN. Originally from Brandon, South Dakota, Stephen Larson started cooking full-time while finishing his high school education. Stephen attended St Paul Vocational College and accepted his first head chef position immediately after (actually three weeks before) graduating. Stephen also has experience as a cooking instructor through Cook’s of Crocus Hill as well as Gourmet’s Garden B&B Cooking School which he and his wife operated until 2009 when the “call of the restaurant world” beckoned and Stephen jumped back into the professional kitchen. We hope to see Stephen (and Leah) featured in some Co-op Kitchen classes in the months to come, but until then you can get a taste of Stephen’s Quarter/quarter recipe influences daily on the Café Hot Bar.

The Water Street Café at the Oneota Co-op features homemade, from-scratch cooking 7 days a week. Currently we have a monthly hot bar menu rotation – featuring a set menu Monday through Friday of each week. Weekends you will find a theme of Chef’s Choice on the Hot Bar. Each day we also offer a full stocked fresh salad bar, two homemade soups, fresh-grilled panini (grilled sandwiches), a full espresso bar, and a cooler full of cold sandwiches, dips, spreads, desserts and pastries.

Follow our Oneota Community Food Co-op Facebook page for daily posts containing the menu for that day. Plus, find our catering and panino menu online at You can even call ahead to order your panino and have it ready for pick-up when you arrive.