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Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale Records

Identifier: M/A 0229
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Click Image to View the Digital Collection

Description of Contents

The collection consists of a variety of materials related to the café and its ownership. These include personal correspondence from both Charles and Louise Saunders, biographical materials, newspaper clippings, various photographs and media, audio recordings, restaurant menus, promotional materials, and assorted artifacts.


  • Creation: 1929 - 2001

Access Restrictions

The physical collection is available for use in Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library during the department’s open hours. Menus, table cards, and photographs from this collection are available in the Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale Collection in the Hennepin County Library Digital Collections.


Charlie’s Café Exceptionale opened in December 1933 at 716 4th Ave. S. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was started by Charles Herlin and Charles Saunders who were the head bartender and waiter respectively. Charles Saunders gained sole ownership of the café upon the death of Charles Herlin in 1933. The Café existed at the same location until 1948 when a new building was constructed across the street. Ten years later, in 1958, another addition was built to the restaurant. The building was in the English Tudor style, constructed of white brick with a slate roof. Outside the entrance there was a bronze statue of a nude woman that was dubbed Scherzo. This statue became a symbol of the restaurant and generated a fair amount of controversy in its day. The restaurant consisted of four dining rooms, a bar, cocktail lounge, and three banquet rooms. In addition to the dining areas the restaurant also included several interesting facilities Including a butcher shop, bakery, laundry, wine cellar, and liquor room.

Saunders proved to be a skilled restauranteur, and his café became a fixture of the Minneapolis social scene. It was written about by several columnists in Minneapolis papers, gaining the restaurant even more prestige. It was also chosen to host the Les Amis D’ Escoffier annual dinner in 1956. This was an important annual event for people involved in the culinary profession.

In addition to being a restauranteur, Charles Saunders was an accomplished pilot and owned several planes during his lifetime. He served in World War II as a cargo plane pilot. During this time, he would give out cards to fellow airmen telling them to visit his “bar” when they returned to the United States. Those who took him up on his offer were often surprised to find that they had been invited to an upscale supper club. Saunders also owned a small farm in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where he raised livestock. This included horses which he raced at venues around the Midwest, including the Minnesota State Fair. In 1964, Charles Saunders died of a heart attack, and ownership of the café passed to his wife, Louise H. Saunders. Charles Saunders had married Louise Herou, a lawyer, in 1959. Before they met Louise had led a very successful life. During her time at the University of Minnesota, Louise had been a proficient speed skater and golfer. During her senior year she was assistant to Dean Stanly Kinyon of the law school. She graduated with a B.S. in law in 1948 and continued on to receive her Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1950. In 1949, shortly before she graduated, she was elected as one of the 100 outstanding students of the University of Minnesota. After graduating she served as law clerk of Justice LeRoy Matson of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Thereafter she became an associate in the law firm of Larson, Loevinger, Lindquist, Freeman and Fraiser in Minneapolis. Although she was trained as a lawyer, and had no experience as a restauranteur, Louise chose to continue operating the Cafe. Under her leadership, the Café continued to do excellent business and received several awards. The business became nationally known and attracted celebrities diners including Bob Hope and President Nixon.

Louise Saunders became a fixture of the Minneapolis business scene attracting both local and national attention to herself. She served on the board of directors for several organizations including North American Life and Casualty Company, The Minneapolis Downtown Council, and Minnesota Restaurant and Foodservice Association. She was president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Commissioner of the White House Conference on Small Business in 1979.

Louise Saunders continued to operate the cafe until the 1980s. In July 1982, Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale ceased operation. The property was sold to the Turner Development Corporation which erected an office building on the site. Several of the café’s recipes continued to be served by other local restaurants. The bar fixtures were purchased by the Monte Carlo Cafe and Restaurant in Minneapolis who used them to recreate the bar which once existed at Charlie's.


10.25 Linear Feet (19 boxes, 1 pamphlet enclosure, and 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials


Related Materials in Hennepin County Library Special Collections

Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale Records
Heather Carroll, Nicole Green, and Benjamin Skinner
May 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Hennepin County Library Special Collections Repository

Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis MN 55401 U.S.A.