EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a multiple-part series that highlights some of South Dakota's best small-town eateries. These stories will run through the summer as tourists are traveling South Dakota, looking for places to stop and eat, as we all move past the pandemic that locked down many areas of the country. Here's the first story in the series showing the great eateries South Dakota has to offer.

PARKSTON — Tammy Wheeler is tending to the tip jar, divvying up the lunchtime gratuities during a mid-afternoon lull in business at Schuver’s Cafe in Parkston. It’s one of the few quiet moments she will get during the busy workday at the small-town restaurant.

But it’s another task in a long list that need to be done to keep the customers and her employees happy.

“The employees like it because they don’t have to wait for the paycheck,” Wheeler said with a chuckle during an interview with the Mitchell Republic.

Wheeler, along with her husband Shawn, has been at the helm of Schuver’s Cafe for the past two years, and it was recently nominated by Mitchell Republic readers and selected as one of the featured eateries in the newspaper’s Battle of the Eats series, which showcases favorite small-town diners and restaurants. Profiles of the restaurants will be featured regularly in the pages of the Mitchell Republic between July and August.

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The cafe is known for its throwback interior, its friendly service and menu items that never seem to go out of style, such as the signature chicken salad and broasted chicken. The operation dates back to 1948, when Matilda “Tillie” Schuver ran the cafe in downtown Parkston. She headed the cafe through 1974. Years later, Schuver’s grandson Mark Morehouse would take the reins in 2010 after a string of different owners operated it, usually as a food service outlet.

Now, Wheeler is co-owner and operator of the location, having taken over in 2019 after a stint of working there. Morehouse was interested in selling the nook, and Tammy said her husband had pondered owning a restaurant for some time after the couple moved back to her hometown over a decade ago.

Decorations at Schuver's Cafe in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Decorations at Schuver's Cafe in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

“We’ve been back in Parkston since 2008,” said Wheeler, a 1983 graduate of Parkston High School. “My husband (wanted to try it). His ambition was always to run a restaurant, so I worked with Mark (Morehouse) for five years. And when he decided he wanted to retire, I started talking to him and he said he was hoping me and my husband would decide to do it. ‘You’d be good at it,’ he said.”

Wheeler began training on the ins and outs of the restaurant. Though she had worked with Morehouse over the years, it was primarily in the realm of waitressing and helping out during the lunch or dinner rushes. She had a lot to learn about the intricacies and preparation that goes into a day’s work in a busy small-town cafe.

Even for someone who had worked at the cafe for some time, there was a significant learning curve from going from employee to owner.

Tammy Wheeler said she thinks Schuver's Cafe has the best food in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Tammy Wheeler said she thinks Schuver's Cafe has the best food in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

“So we jumped right in. They trained me for about a month, and after that they said, ‘Adios!’” she said. “I had known what was going on, but then I didn’t know what was going on, like what they did early in the morning, because I was basically only here over the lunch hour to help him out because he couldn’t find the help. I kind of knew what was going on. I didn’t know the behind-the-scenes work of making the salads, the salad dressings and the prep work until we actually purchased it.”

It was a stressful time, but Morehouse was encouraging and the customers continued to come in. As a gesture to Morehouse and his grandmother, he asked him if she could continue to call the cafe Schuver’s, to which he happily agreed.

Morehouse’s experience at Schuver’s and at his own restaurant in Mitchell, The Chicken Coupe, helped ease the transition for Wheeler and provided her with a wealth of experience to draw upon.

Tammy Wheeler, co-owner of Schuver's Cafe in Parkston with her husband Shawn, not pictured, makes a chicken sandwich in the kitchen. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Tammy Wheeler, co-owner of Schuver's Cafe in Parkston with her husband Shawn, not pictured, makes a chicken sandwich in the kitchen. (Matt Gade / Republic)

“I like to think that was Mark’s doing. He was the one that built it up. He’s been in the food business for 35 or 40 years,” Wheeler said.

In addition to having a familiar face he thought would do well in the owner role, he had hoped the next owner would keep at least some of the menu items his family had introduced years ago. Wheeler said she had no ambition for changing the menu. She knew it was good, and the loyal customer base confirmed that to her.

“All of the menu came from him. I kept every one of his recipes exactly the way it was,” Wheeler said.


“We have been told by somebody from almost every state that we have the best broasted chicken in the United States. I’ve heard so many people say that."

— Tammy Wheeler, co-owner of Schuver’s Cafe in Parkston


She hasn’t deviated from that pledge. She continues to make the chicken salad recipe that connects back to the Morehouse family. The creamy concoction is popular served a number of different ways, from traditional sandwiches to other fare.

“We do serve a lot of (chicken salad). The grocery store is also a big seller of it, I make a big batch for them maybe once or twice a week,” Wheeler said. “We use it for sandwiches, or occasionally someone will want a scoop on a bed of lettuce. And it’s good on crackers or just eating it with a fork.”

The Mitchell Republic will be featuring readers' favorite small-town diners and restaurants in the ongoing feature Battle of the Eats.
The Mitchell Republic will be featuring readers' favorite small-town diners and restaurants in the ongoing feature Battle of the Eats.

Another hot item is the broasted chicken, which has impressed visitors from across the continental United States. Along with the macaroni crab salad, as well as a heaping helping of friendly service, it keeps people walking in the door for lunch and dinner.

Tammy Wheeler is the co-owner of Schuver's Cafe in Parkston with her husband Shawn, not pictured. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Tammy Wheeler is the co-owner of Schuver's Cafe in Parkston with her husband Shawn, not pictured. (Matt Gade / Republic)

“Most everybody who comes back comes back because they know us, and they know the food. We have been told by somebody from almost every state that we have the best broasted chicken in the United States. I’ve heard so many people say that,” Wheeler said.

Customers are quick to praise the food quality and service. Bill Hoffman stopped in Schuver’s Cafe last week in the mid-afternoon to pick up a treat for himself and his mother. Like Wheeler, he graduated from Parkston High School before moving away and returning later in life.

He’s glad the downtown stop is there, and said there were plenty of tasty items on the menu, including his personal favorite.

“I come in every once in a while. It’s good food,” Hoffman said. “My favorite is the hot hamburger with gravy and mashed potatoes. And for a snack, like today, we’re having some shakes. My mom is sitting in the car, she’s getting one and I’m getting the other one. My wife is dieting so she won’t be getting one.”

Booths for patrons at Schuver's Cafe in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Booths for patrons at Schuver's Cafe in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Randy Alberston, of Parkston, was one reader who nominated Schuver's Cafe for the Battle of the Eats. He said he's not one to dine out often, but if he does, Schuver's is high on the list of destinations.

"Their hot broasted chicken is what I really like," Alberston said. "I've tried some other stuff ... but that's what I usually get because I really like it."

He said he also enjoys the ice cream and praised the friendly service.

With the exception of some slight modifications to the cafe’s signature Kenny Burger and the addition of a patty melt on the menu, the selection at Schuver’s has remained the same through the ownership transition. And while that’s great for customers who have come to know and love these dishes, it can cause a hitch when a new customer asks the inevitable question.

“What’s good?” they ask.

Wheeler said she’s given up trying to choose something.

“I never recommend anything, because it’s all good. It just depends on what you’re in the mood for. Everytime they ask what is good, I say ‘everything.’ What are you hungry for? Do you want something hot? Do you have time to wait for chicken or do you want something cold? A chicken salad sandwich takes about three or four minutes,” Wheeler said.

Chicken salad sandwich at Schuver's Cafe in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Chicken salad sandwich at Schuver's Cafe in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

For those sitting down for a meal, they can enjoy the ambiance of a building and dining room that hails back to the days of the classic American diner. A pair of horseshoe-shaped counters compliment a handful of small booths. The walls are adorned with some historic photos, including one of Morehouse’s parents seated at one of the counters and another photo estimated to be from the late 1950s that shows people enjoying the bowling alley that was once housed downstairs.

Wheeler said she hasn’t changed the interior since the Morehouse era of ownership.

“I didn’t do any remodeling. It’s exactly the same,” Wheeler said.

Like many restaurant owners, there can be struggles. Long days can add up and leave her feeling drained by the time the end of the week rolls around. She’s extremely thankful for her employees, who continue to make her food and service possible. Luckily, she is in relatively decent shape for the summer months, but noted she may have to search around for help once the school year starts.

Decorations at Schuver's Cafe in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Decorations at Schuver's Cafe in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

It’s a labor of love, she said, with an emphasis on both labor and love. She doesn’t foresee her stepping away from the business anytime soon, but admitted that at 56 there can be some days where the hours seem long.

“When you get to about Friday and you’re dead on your feet,” she said.

But certainly for the time being, she plans to be front and center behind the counter, in the kitchen or dividing up the tips to keep Schuver’s alive, kicking and serving up the classic dishes that have become popular in town, the region and around the country.

Wheeler said she knows that’s not something to take lightly. When customers love your food, service and prices, it’s hard not to continue that dedication to delivering what they crave.

“I think it’s the best food in town. Plain and simple, that’s it,” Wheeler said. “And comparing prices anywhere I’ve gone, I think we have the prices, too.”