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Star of Charlotte's Cafe in Carlton dies at 99

Charlotte Zacher told friends that she wanted to outlast the landmark water tower in her hometown of Carlton. Both loomed large in the community -- the water tower in the literal sense, and Zacher with the dependability, charisma and kindness she...

Charlotte Zacher
Charlotte Zacher, seen here in her Carlton cafe in October 1980, died Wednesday at age 99. She presided over the cafe with her colorful personality for more than 60 years. (1980 file / News Tribune)

Charlotte Zacher told friends that she wanted to outlast the landmark water tower in her hometown of Carlton.

Both loomed large in the community -- the water tower in the literal sense, and Zacher with the dependability, charisma and kindness she dished up for more than six decades as the owner of Charlotte's Cafe in the heart of town.

In the end, Charlotte got her wish. Zacher died Wednesday at Inter-Faith Care Center in Carlton at age 99. She was less than two months shy of her 100th birthday, and she outlived the tower by more than three years.

Zacher lived in Carlton her entire life -- "She is Carlton," said longtime friend Bruce Snyder.

Zacher started the cafe with her three brothers in an old streetcar in about 1930; when they left to enter the service around the time of World War II, Zacher took over the cafe -- by then it was in a permanent building -- and stayed in business until 1998.

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And while people came to eat -- hamburgers fried in a pan, never on a grill, and coffee brewed with an egg added, shell and all -- they also came to see Zacher herself. Or, perhaps, what she was wearing.

Zacher gained fame for working while wearing evening gowns (often pink), short shorts, Halloween costumes -- once even a Duluth Dukes uniform to mark the start of baseball season, Snyder said. All of it topped off with her carefully coiffed bouffant hairdo. Zacher drew media attention from near and far; she appeared on the NBC television show "Real People" in 1984.

Asked why she wore elegant dresses and jewelry while serving omelets and washing dishes, Zacher told the News Tribune in 1992 that "I can't wear them in the nursing home, so I might as well wear them now."

In addition to opening the cafe early each morning -- "You could always count on her being there," Snyder said -- Zacher, who never married, stayed active by riding her bike around town and dancing. She was always dancing -- whether behind the counter in her restaurant, or going out to a club or tavern well into her 80s.

Snyder said Charlotte's style drew a crowd, and she was never lacking for a dance partner.

"It was better than Dolly Parton," he said. "When she showed up, people just had to know her."

And they remembered her. Men who had passed through Carlton while working transient jobs would stop in decades later to see Charlotte at the cafe, Snyder recalled. It would turn out that she had given them a free meal when they had fallen on tough times, or she had sent them a Christmas card when they were far from home and family.

"They never forgot her kindness," said Snyder, a retired city of Carlton employee who first met Zacher in the 1970s.

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After closing Charlotte's Cafe, Zacher lived in the building for a few years before moving to a nursing home. The building that housed the restaurant is now home to Streetcar Kitchen & Pub, where historical information about Zacher and her cafe is on display.

A visitation for Zacher was rescheduled because of the weather. It will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Handevidt Funeral Home, 900 Washington Ave. in Cloquet. Services will follow at noon.

Related Topics: CARLTONRESTAURANTS AND BARS
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