By Jennie Zeitler
Jitters Java Cafe was recently given an award for outstanding achievement in food safety by the Stearns County Board of Commissioners. The award is given annually to one restaurant and one school in the county. Inspections are performed by Stearns County’s Environmental Services Department.
Jitters was not even on the radar for Tom and Kathy Oschwald when they moved to Sauk Centre in 1982. Kathy had grown up in Cold Spring and moved back to Stearns County after college.
Tom joined his new bride in Sauk Centre the following year when they opened Cobblestone Court. He worked with her until 2003, when he decided to look for something different to do for himself.
“We felt there was a need for a coffee shop,” Tom said. “The seed had been planted 10 – 15 years earlier when two visitors to Kathy’s shop had suggested that coffee be served there.”
They felt that selling strictly coffee wouldn’t make it, that food was needed.
“I had learned to cook at my mom’s apron strings,” Tom said. “Although I don’t do the cooking at Jitters, I plan the menu.”
A building owned by the city became available, a former automobile repair shop with a small Sinclair gas station on the corner.
“It had been built in about 1948,” said Tom. “It had been for sale and empty for four to five years.”
Three service bays were still in the north end of the building, although the lifts had been removed.
“We got the building in about 2002, and spent a year and a half fixing it ourselves,” Tom said. “We had to hire an electrician and a plumber since it is a restaurant, but we did everything else.”
The Oschwalds and friends did all of the exterior work. They gutted the inside and put up new walls. A fireplace was put in the coffee shop and surrounded by comfortable furniture.
“Kathy did all the interior design work, chose all the colors and tile,” Tom said. “I have the best office.”
Jitters opened in November 2003 with a variety of coffee and tea offerings and a small food menu.
“I’ve always wanted to keep a small menu, with seasonal sandwiches and salads rotating,” Tom said.
The menu includes bakery items and ice cream.
Jitters was open for about five years before work on the event room was done. “I like the slow growth option,” he said. “It keeps things fresh.”
The event room is available for large groups.
Sometime this summer, Jitters After Hours will be opening in the event room Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with a wine bar, beer, a separate menu and live music.
“We thought we wanted to add it eventually, and now we’re getting to it,” said Tom.
The Oschwalds’ frame of mind goes right along with one of the many stylish signs gracing the walls: “Life is always in progress.”
Jitters’ 2012 Food Safety Award was announced in late 2012. Tom was pleasantly surprised by a phone call from Stearns County Environmental Health Division Supervisor Hank Schreifels.
“We work hard to keep it clean and to follow all the safety guidelines,” Tom said. “For me, the health inspector is a resource.”
Before purchasing the building, Tom had called Schreifels, who gladly came out and inspected the building.
“I was concerned about it having been a gas station and our wanting it to be a restaurant,” said Tom. “It was not an official inspection, but Hank brought information to me. The primary concern was about the plumbing during construction.”
“It’s interesting that my wife never drinks coffee, and I had at most five cups of coffee in my whole life before opening the shop,” Tom said. “Now I have five cups a day. We just thought, ‘This is something Sauk Centre needs.’”
Jitters Java Cafe with drive-through is located at 403 Main Street S. and is open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, call (320) 352-1390.