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McCook restaurant’s vast cookie jar collection shifts to a holiday theme
by Gene O. Morris
Start counting, Nebraska. We're betting that Fuller's Family Restaurant in McCook has the largest collection of cookie jars in the state.
That may be saying a lot, because there are some mighty big collections in Nebraska, but few come close to the Fuller’s Family Restaurant collection, which now numbers above 1,200...and continues to grow.
The collection — which fills shelves and cabinets on every wall of the vintage family cafe — is the result of a decade of traveling and buying by the restaurant's owners and managers, Val Fuller and Linda Thayer.
Starting in November, the collection on display is completely changed. The everyday cookie jars (which in no way means ordinary!) go out and the display spaces in the cafe are filled with Christmas-themed cookie jars. The jars fill the restaurant walls, and can be seen from all the tables in Fuller's large front and rear dining rooms.
It starts with one cookie jar
The collection started in 1998 when Linda was shopping and noticed a cute cookie jar shaped like a goose. "Hey, I thought, that would be a cute item to display at the restaurant," she said.
And, so, a journey began. Linda and Val are frequent travelers, going to all parts of the United States to visit family members and to play games of chance at casinos.
"Val likes to play the slots and he's been very lucky,” Linda said. “We've been to Atlantic City, Lake Tahoe, Reno, Vegas, Laughlin, Council Bluffs and Louisiana, among other places." Also, Linda says, "we have kids all over so we have traveled to New York, California, Florida, Texas, Ohio and Indiana and all the states along the way."
And along the way, Linda started picking up cookie jars in all the states they visited. "Now Val is hooked, too. He buys almost as many as I do."
Prices may vary
The cost varies widely.
"We've bought some for less than $5 at auctions, and you can get them for even less than that at thrift stores," Linda says. But, on the high end, cookie jars can get quite expensive. "Prices range up to $300 for some of the more intricate designs,” she explained, noting a train they bought in Las Vegas, as well as a merry-go-round, and an elaborately detailed Santa Claus.
Linda's favorites among the collection are a little guy with an innocent grin and a moose that is so delicate Linda leaves it on display year-around to guard against breakage during moving.
How big will the collection get? There's no telling. It just depends on how many shelves and cabinets Val is willing to buy, and how many times Linda is willing to change the displays. So far, there has been no sign of either of them letting up.
A mini tourist attraction
Not only is the cookie jar collection a lot of fun, but Linda believes it is good for business.
"We often have people stop in to say they had heard about our collection and wanted to come see it for themselves," she said.
The restaurant, now known as Fuller's Family Restaurant, was started by Val's parents, Mary and Earl Fuller, in 1946. It was then known as M&E Cafe. In the 63 years since then, the cafe has been operated by three of Mary and Earl's sons — Stu, Mike and now Val.
Val started working there in '46 as an eight-year-old dish washer, and returned in 1986 to take over ownership and management.
Ironically, Val's nickname is Cookie. For years, customers assumed that was because he spent his time preparing meals. Now, there's a new possibility: It may be because of his and Linda's vast and growing collection of cookie jars.
Who to Contact
Fuller’s Family Restaurant
218 W B St,
Mc Cook, Nebraska
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