After brief hiatus, longtime Lake Andes restaurant owner teams up with couple to reopen Inside Scoop
“This is a special place to me, and I never want to see Lake Andes without a good restaurant in town. I definitely missed it all,” Cindy Mengenhauser said of The Inside Scoop.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth article in the Battle of the Eats 2022 series, which features stories on favorite small-town restaurants as voted upon by Mitchell Republic readers. The series will conclude on Saturday, Aug. 27.
LAKE ANDES — Cindy Mengenhauser has tried to let go of the restaurant she helped build into a Lake Andes staple over the years, but she can’t seem to stay away.
The longtime owner of The Inside Scoop in Lake Andes was in the process of selling her restaurant this year to a group of new owners by way of contract for deed. Mengenhauser had no intentions of jumping back into the restaurant world when she turned the business over to her daughter and another owner who changed the menu and name to A&A Eatery Apothecary. But an unexpected career change from her daughter led Mengenhauser back to the kitchen in late July.
After about a year-long hiatus, Mengenhauser and The Inside Scoop were back. So, too, were the signature food specials like the ultimate chili cheese dog, beef chislic basket and breakfast burritos.
“This is a special place to me, and I never want to see Lake Andes without a good restaurant in town. I definitely missed it all,” she said of The Inside Scoop.
Although Mengenhauser restructured the restaurant similar to the way it was before A&A Eatery’s brief run, a young couple — who locals grew to love over the past year under the ownership of A&A Eatery — have brought a new culinary flare to the establishment that sits along Highway 281.
With over a decade of experience in the food and hospitality industry, Joey Opheim and Carynn Blaha know what it takes to run a successful restaurant. After all, the duo helped guide a number of Sioux Falls restaurants and eating establishments to new heights in recent years prior to transplanting to the small town of Lake Andes.
When Mengenhauser reopened The Inside Scoop a month ago, she tabbed Opheim and Blaha as the managers. Like Mengenhauser, Opheim and Blaha were on their first hiatus from the restaurant industry before diving back in about a year ago when they moved to Lake Andes to work at A&A Eatery — a stark contrast from the city life they left in Sioux Falls.
“We lasted six months away from this world before a phone call asking us to work for A&A Eatery. We came here to help them run it, and we’ve been here since. We hadn’t even met (Mengenhauser) before coming here,” Opheim laughed. “When she took back over, all three of us were kind of like ‘OK, here we go.’”
The dynamic trio bring their areas of restaurant expertise to The Inside Scoop. Opheim, who is the main man behind the popular food being dished out, has infused his culinary expertise into the daily specials and brought new items to the menu.
As she’s done throughout much of her life in the hospitality industry, Blaha keeps the atmosphere friendly and welcoming, along with providing what Mengenhauser says is the “best customer service there is.”
The wide variety of cuisines and desserts served at The Inside Scoop are well-known around the Missouri River town, and the 92-year-old door greeter, Harold Miller, is just as famous as the food.
“When my dad (Miller) is here, he’s always striking up conversations with everyone who walks through the doors. I’m convinced some customers come to see if he’s here to chat baseball and whatever else,” Mengenhauser laughed.
Although Mengenhauser brought back her signature items, some of A&A Eatery’s Opheim-inspired dishes have made their way onto The Inside Scoop menu, such as vegetarian salads and The Ashton — a sandwich made with spinach artichoke dip, tomato, cucumbers and fresh mozzarella nestled on ciabatta bread.
“We’re bringing some more modern things to the menu, while keeping the staple home cooked meals and specials that are loved by so many around here,” Opheim said. “Whether it be switching to fresher ingredients and adapting to cooking new ingredients, we have some rock stars here who have made the transition great.”
With an ice cream-inspired name, The Inside Scoop’s desserts are so popular some customers replace their dinner with the ice cream blizzards and homemade cheesecakes.
The variety of cheesecakes are made from scratch daily using a secret recipe in Opheim’s vault. It takes up a hefty amount of Opheim’s time to whip up the cheesecakes — which requires letting them cool for 20 hours before serving — he said “it’s worth every minute.”
Committed to providing Lake Andes with a restaurant
Mengenhauser’s journey into the restaurant world began about a decade ago when she bought the building that used to house Moe's Place and Melmers Drive In. After Moe's Place closed and left the town without a restaurant, Mengenhauser couldn’t bear the thought of the community being without an eating establishment. In 2014, the community had a spot to dine once again when she opened The Inside Scoop.
“I’ve tried to help build this town up, but dang it, you need a restaurant to do it,” Mengenhauser said. “We had no restaurant in town, and we’re the county seat for Charles Mix County. I always felt like we had to have one.”
She developed a passion for cooking as a young kid growing up in Canova, where she learned the trade from her parents. It was then she learned the art of South Dakota down-home cooking and baking sweets.
“Growing up, you had a home-cooked meal everyday. And a lot of baked goods. I wanted to give that to the community,” she said. “To do that, you gotta love to cook.”
For roughly five years, she operated the restaurant with her late husband, Mark Mengenhauser, in the old Melmers Drive In building, which was much smaller than the existing building. As it began experiencing asbestos and became too costly to afford the electric bills, she closed it in 2017 and built the restaurant in a new spot along Highway 281 the following year.
With a bigger building that could seat up to double the amount of customers, Mengenhauser and a family member had the new restaurant location humming along until the 2019 flood hit. What was supposed to be a strong second year of operation at a new spot became what Mengenhauser said was the “most difficult year” she ever had running the business. The flood caused a portion of the highway that serves as a main corridor to her restaurant to shut down.
“A lot of customers travel from towns around the area, and the flooded roads stopped a lot of that. We get a lot of people going to and from the river to fish. The flooding that year hurt that big time as well,” she said.
Following the flood, another disaster struck: the pandemic. Like many eating establishments, The Inside Scoop closed the dining area during the peak of the coronavirus in 2020.
The drive-thru window turned out to be a saving grace. And that allowed the business to keep staff and turn a profit.
All the hardships she faced over the past three years couldn’t diminish Mengenhauser’s passion for the business and feeding the Lake Andes community.
Her return this summer is proof.
“I wasn’t sure how much more I could take after those years. But the people we see and the smiles they get when they eat here makes going through the hard times worth every bit of it,” she said.