Restaurant reopens after two decades thanks to long, fond memories of locals

Restaurant reopens after two decades thanks to long, fond memories of locals

The unassuming little building at the intersection of Highways 18 and 81 has been a fixture in rural Hutchinson County for nearly a century. Originally a gas and service station, Meridian Corner now serves as a restaurant that reopened in 2011, two decades after closing, thanks in part to the demands of locals with long, fond memories.

“We’re in a pretty central location,” manager Abby Streyle says. “We’re eight miles outside of Freeman and eight miles outside of Menno. We have a good following of people from Marion, Scotland, Irene, and Viborg.”

Regulars and visitors alike come for the chislic and other food options and stay for the camaraderie.

Chislic is a dish consisting of skewered cubes of red meat, usually mutton or lamb, although game meats such as venison and even beef steak can be used.

Locals wanted their chislic back 

Built in the late 1920s, Meridian Corner fueled automobiles rather than hungry patrons for its first 50 years. Paul and Marceen Svartoien bought the building in August 1979 and turned it into a restaurant and grocery store that catered to local tastes. When retirement and a desire to travel beckoned in 1989, they closed the popular eatery.

The building remained shuttered until 2011, when the Svartoien’s son Roland and his wife Jean gave it a new lease on life. Roland had purchased the building from the family’s estate after both parents passed away, originally planning to fix it up and use it as a gathering place for family members.  

The fond memories of the chislic and tiger meat that Paul and Marceen dished up remained strong. After many people suggested Roland reopen the restaurant, he eventually relented. That May, the “Open” sign was back in the door. Business has been steady ever since.  

Showcasing official state nosh 

Food is definitely the big draw at Meridian Corner, particularly the iconic lamb chislic – a dish that might draw a curious stare from outsiders but is beloved in southeastern South Dakota. Freeman lies in the heart of the famed “Chislic Circle” and its Chislic Festival every July draws crowds far and wide, so its popularity is no surprise. 

 In 2018, readers of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper named Meridian Corner the best spot to get the lamb version of chislic, which is also South Dakota’s official nosh. Meridian Corner also represented South Dakota at the first Flavored Nation event that year and again in 2019, which allowed attendees to taste iconic dishes from around the country all in one place. Flavored Nation was paused during the pandemic and has not resumed.

Tiger meat is another unique offering that might raise a few eyebrows elsewhere. For the uninitiated, tiger meat is lean ground beef that is mixed with onions and spices, cured, and served raw with crackers; no actual tigers were harmed during prep! Meridian Corner still serves up Maureen’s original recipe. 

Simplicity is the key to success 

Got a craving for something more mainstream? Don’t worry, you won’t go hungry here.  

 “We also have steaks, pork chops, and a variety of different specialty burgers,” Abby reassures. “Homemade chili, which is again Maureen’s recipe. So, we have something for everyone.”

Abby credits the menu’s success to its simplicity. They hand-patty their own burgers, bread their own gizzards, and make their own fry bread for Indian tacos. Preparation isn’t overly fussy; a variety of seasonings on each table – including a Meridian Corner house seasoning that regulars douse on everything – allow diners to dress up their meals however they’d like. Many items, like their mutton, are sourced locally. 

“Our Golden West internet is very fast, so we are able to process credit cards and gift cards quickly. And we do almost all our advertising on social media, so obviously, we wouldn’t be able to get to-go orders without a Golden West phone line. The very few times we’ve had an internet issue, Golden West is out there immediately to fix it.”
Abby Streyle
Manager, Meridian Corner

Hard-working staff, fast internet 

Considering locals rallied together to persuade Roland and Jean to reopen Meridian Corner, it’s not surprising that the restaurant engages with the community through various donations and sponsorships. It’s the least they can do for their customer base made up of a mix of farmers and ranchers, construction workers, and folks just passing through.

A steady stream of regulars keeps them busy year-round, and Abby has nothing but praise for the Meridian Corner employees who keep them fed.

“We have a fantastic staff that treats everyone that comes in like family,” she says. “They’re very hard-working people. We wouldn’t be close to what we are without them.”

Golden West proves helpful, as well. Abby says Golden West services are crucial to everything from marketing to daily operations. She describes the cooperative’s services and responsiveness as “pretty impressive.”

“Our Golden West internet is very fast, so we are able to process credit cards and gift cards quickly,” she shares. “And we do almost all our advertising on social media, so obviously, we wouldn’t be able to get to-go orders without a Golden West phone line. The very few times we’ve had an internet issue, Golden West is out there immediately to fix it.”  

 

Stories You Might Also Like