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The most legendary of all the Fort Dodge restaurants was Treloar’s Inn. In its day, Treloar’s Inn was known all over the mid-west and seated over 500 people. It all began with a 120 square foot building.
Lester Dewey Treloar was born on September 14. 1898, in Ogden, Iowa. L.D. “Les” Treloar , worked boyhood jobs shining shoes, selling newspapers to coal miners and clerking in a grocery store. He ended his formal education at the eighth grade and eventually became a signal lamp man and then a brakeman for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. He came to Fort Dodge in 1920, when he was 22, worked briefly for the U.S. Gypsum Co. and then became a switchman in the Illinois Central yards. He wasn’t making enough money to support his family, so he and his wife, Hazel, and a younger brother O.L (Orsie) started a small business, using a self-made sandwich wagon, they began selling popcorn and peanuts up and down Central Avenue and also at northern Iowa fairs and farm sales. Les Treloar had an instinct for pleasing the public and a business acumen and work ethic that many saw as unmatched.
Les Treloar also had what he called “Treloar’s First Aid to the Hungry” in a small building at 1022 Central Ave. But, in 1928, he and Hazel started operating a restaurant from the Theiss farm site just on the north edge of the Fort Dodge city limits on North 15th Street. At this location his first restaurant was housed in a small garage they bought at a farm auction.
This makeshift restaurant had a 10’ x 12’ lunchroom with four wooden benches to seat eight customers on a small corner of a cornfield. Lights were supplied by gasoline lanterns. Water was hauled from the City, and there were no sewer facilities. Hazel did the cooking that included hamburgers, fried chicken and ribs. This was the beginning of the iconic Treloar’s Inn restaurant.
Word of the restaurant’s food spread quickly and so did its seating: By 1941, 64 diners could be accommodated; by 1946, there was seating for 210; by 1950, 425, and in 1957, Treloar’s Inn could seat 508 patrons. At times, Les had to use a public address system to handle its large crowds of customers
In 1947, Treloar’s Curb Service (later called Treloar’s Country Boy Drive-In) was opened on the same two-acre plot of land where the Inn stood. In 1950, Les and Hazel’s oldest son, Max, became manager of the fast growing business. In the summers, Treloar’s offered drive-in service with car hops on roller skates bringing food on trays and attaching them to car windows. The popular drive-in service was one the first in Iowa as they became very popular a few years later in the mid-1950s through the 1960’s.
Over the years, the restaurant went through many changes and improvements. The photo at the top of this article is a rendering of the Treloar’s Restaurant in 1946.
Les, known in Fort Dodge as Papa Treloar, also catered many community events at a time when most businesses and organizations had annual employee or member picnics. Many civic groups held their regular meetings at Treloar’s Restaurant. It offered meeting space, great food and a 16mm movie projector that was often used by the groups.
In the summers, Treloar’s offered drive-in service with car hops. As the restaurant continued to expand, Les invested in the latest equipment: walk-in refrigerators, gas steak broilers, electric dishwashers, automatic potato peelers and an intercom system between the basement office, the cashier’s counter, the kitchen and the outdoor drive-in lot. Les Treloar invented and patented the Treloar Bar-B-Que Oven. It was a BBQ oven roasting apparatus with movably mounted food supports with movable heating implements about a vertical axis.
In 1949, Treloar’s served more than 53,000 pounds of ribs, 33,000 chickens and replaced its well with City water – which, they said, made the coffee taste much better! Treloar’s kept a six week supply of frozen chickens (which he got from his son-in-law Delbert Porter’s chicken farm) in his basement freezers. Fresh shrimp was shipped to Treloar’s in half ton size shipments. They made their own ice cream and baked their own pies, bread and other baked goods. One outstanding specialty was Treloar’s barbequed beans. Some say the secret to the baked beans was that they sat beneath the vertically roasting ribs, which allowed the juices to drip into the barbequed beans.
Papa Treloar’s two daughters worked at the restaurant for a period of time and his son, Max, worked as the assistant manager. His twin sons, Dewey and Dean, helped out by washing dishes and “rescuing” dishes and silver that were inadvertently thrown in the trash – they were paid two cents per rescued item.
At its height, Treloar’s operated five restaurants in Fort Dodge – the main Inn and the Country Boy were joined by Max Treloar’s Pancake Feast in 1961 (sold three years later to Max’s sister Billie and her husband Delbert Porter, to become “Del Porter’s Pancake Feast”); a restaurant and lounge in the then-new Holiday Inn in 1964, and the Treloar’s Crossroads Restaurant at the Crossroads Shopping Center in 1969. Hundreds of employees worked for the restaurants over the years.
In the 1950’s, 1960’s and early 1970’s, people from a hundred miles away would travel to Fort Dodge to eat at Treloar’s Restaurant. It was the place to go to savor a fine meal and especially enjoy an iconic chicken or rib dinner. Treloar’s Inn was a restaurant that appealed to all generations, teens, young families and older adults. Many special events and moments were celebrated there; birthdays, homecoming and proms, family reunions, weddings and anniversaries. It was so popular that people would wait for hours to get seated on a Mother’s Day or an Easter Sunday.
Papa Treloar understood that great food was the key to keeping customers coming back. Whether it was the baby back ribs, the fried chicken and shrimp, the steaks, the 15-cent burgers, the barbeque beans, the homemade salad dressings and that special barbeque sauce, Treloar’s built its statewide reputation on its delicious food.
Papa also knew the importance of providing his customers with great service. He hired good people and he valued his employees of which many worked for him for years. “The customer always came first” was the Treloar’s mantra.
Known as a bird aficionado, Les Treloar had a green macaw that sat on a perch (unleashed) inside the front door of the restaurant and the lobby aviary had 15 pairs of parakeets. No doubt, Treloar’s Restaurant offered it patrons a unique dining experience.
Papa Treloar and his wife Hazel also loved monkeys and kept two, Maggie and Judy, in a cage out behind the restaurant. That was for the entertainment of the people waiting in line to get in for dinner. In the wintertime, Maggie and Judy were housed in a heated building next to their home.
Les, “Papa” Treloar was an iconic restaurateur. He filled many important offices in state and U.S. Restaurant Associations. He was also an active member of the Fort Dodge Lions Club.
The restaurant business back in its day, was no easy business to manage. Treloar’s Restaurant survived fires in 1956, 1957 and 1969. Treloar’s Inn Restaurant closed in November 1975, the result of a combination of business decisions and the health issues of Max Treloar. The building was demolished in 1977. The Village Inn Restaurant was built in 1981 at the same location, at the intersection of 15th Street and 20th Avenue North.
Les Treloar died in 1983 and is interred at North lawn Cemetery in Fort Dodge. The gravesites for the Treloar’s founder and his wife Hazel, their son Max and other family members are located just across the highway in North Lawn Cemetery. Papa and Hazel Treloar remain nearby to the location of their iconic Fort Dodge restaurant.
Today, the location of Treloar’s Inn is now the site of the Village Inn Restaurant. Memorabilia of days past is displayed in the lobby of the restaurant.
Even though Treloar’s Inn has been closed for over four decades, so many fond memories remain and the taste of those Treloar ribs and chicken still linger on our tongues today.