Pull up a chair in Mimi’s Kitchen

Brenda Nelson, known as Mimi to her grandson, is no stranger to the kitchen. “I raised six kids, so I cooked all the time,” Nelson laughs. “[I] like making food. Food makes people happy. [That] makes me really happy.”

Nelson previously owned the Fast Break food truck and Sno Shack in Kincaid. She also ran the kitchen at Danenberger Family Vineyards in New Berlin. In June 2023, just off Illinois Route 104 in Divernon, Nelson began a new venture when she opened Mimi’s Kitchen, a quaint restaurant offering American fare.

Pork tenderloin horseshoe

A previous employee suggested she look at the vacant restaurant space. “I saw a guy [who] actually worked for me on both my food truck and at Danenberger’s. He told me [the previous owners] were leaving and asked if I wanted a restaurant,” says Nelson. “I looked at it, and I liked it because it was small.”

She also loves the location. “It’s close to home,” she says. “I know a lot of people who come in here.”

Nelson incorporated some elements from her previous endeavors, including an ice cream counter. “I have new items as well. I just did my own daily specials. … I found out what [customers] really liked, and so I adapted to that.”

Customer favorites include a variety of horseshoes, the Frisco melt, chili, BLTs and the different soups served on Mondays. The Smothered Sancho, however, was “No. 1 at my food truck, and it’s still No. 1 here,” she says. Another Fast Break favorite is the Po-taco. “We were actually on our way to a vacation with friends of ours, and I said, ‘I have this potato that I want to put all the taco toppings on, but I need a clever name for it.’ She’s like, ‘What about a po-taco?’” Nelson’s personal favorites are the veggie burgers and tacos.

The Po-taco

She and her staff of three often see people from the surrounding towns, including Pawnee, Auburn and Kincaid, but word of mouth has started bringing in new patrons. “We’ve had an influx of people from Springfield, and Facebook is reaching other people,” Nelson says, adding that they average 30 to 50 visitors on a regular day, and 20 to 30 for their Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch buffet.

Changes are coming, including alcoholic beverages and gaming. “I would like to incorporate a special on Saturdays and add to the menu as well. I started out with a small menu because I didn’t want to set myself up for failure, honestly,” says Nelson. “It looks better to add than to take away, so I don’t want to do that.” She would also love to do more catering.

Some customer requests have been unexpected. “This couple would come twice a week. … Their kids all love it,” she says. “He’s like, ‘Can I rent this out for a reception?’ I said absolutely. About a week later, he came in, he said, ‘How about if we have the wedding here, too?’” Nelson says she was honored to host the event, and that their wish to have it at her establishment meant a lot to her. “I like to make people happy,” she says. “I wouldn’t turn down anything … if it’s doable.”

House salad

Her husband has been in the restaurant business for 40-plus years. “My husband supports me. … He gives a lot of tips and helps me with the menu,” Nelson says. “He’s run Steak ’n Shakes for more than 40 years.” In fact, she purchased the booths for Mimi’s Kitchen from Steak ’n Shake, because the restaurant has been a big part of his life. “I [thought] it would be nice to have [them] in my restaurant,” she adds.
Nelson has learned a few things since opening. “I never knew how important it was to support local restaurants until I became a restaurant owner,” she says. “It is very important to support local businesses, because [we] depend on everybody. You know, without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

“I just want people to come in here and say, ‘Hey, I love that place,’” says Nelson. “I would like to stand out in the crowd, and someday expand or get a bigger place. Who knows what the future holds?”

Let’s EAT!

Mimi’s Kitchen
480 W. Illinois State Route 104, Divernon
Mimi’s Kitchen on Facebook

Mon-Tue: 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Thu-Sat: 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Sun: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.