Happy Chef is a casual dining restaurant in Mankato, Minnesota. It is known for serving breakfast throughout the day and is similar to Denny's, Perkins, and IHOP.
The first Happy Chef Restaurant opened in 1963 in Mankato, Minnesota, and still operates today as the only location. At one time, the chain had 56 restaurants in seven states. However, consumer tastes shifted in the 1980s towards restaurants offering alcohol and multiple televisions, leaving a single restaurant in operation as of 2015.
At one time, most of its locations had a big statue of a smiling man in a chef hat holding a spoon. Usually, these were at least eight times larger than life and would play recorded audio messages when a button was pushed. These became roadside icons. Today, the original location in Mankato still has a Happy Chef statue.
The older restaurants had wood frame and siding architecture with a "tower" like structure in front; the restaurant wings jutting out on either side and behind the tower. Variations included an A-shaped roof on either side of the tower, or the A-frame structure with vaulted ceilings inside. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, flashing lights on this structure would draw roadside travelers in. The restaurants that still possessed these structures did not use them anymore. Examples of these locations included Story City, Iowa; and Owatonna, Minnesota.
Newer restaurants have a mansard roof with a gable on either side. Inside this gable is a round sign that says "Happy Chef." At night, instead of flashing bulbs, a red neon light that runs the length of the roof is illuminated instead. Examples of these restaurants include Adair, Iowa.
- Profile of the original Happy Chef restaurant and its founder - first published in the Mankato Free Press, Mankato, Minnesota, 2005-11-01.