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Make It a Combo

By Rebecca Blackson

Published online: Jul 01, 2024 Dining
Viewed 1473 time(s)

There’s magic in the flavor of freshly baked bread. The secret to the snap of a perfect crust and a hearty crumb is to take no shortcuts and start from scratch every morning. At Papa Kelsey’s that’s exactly what they do. Beginning before dawn with masses of flour and a 140-quart mixer that’s practically as tall as owner Danny Klassen, the pizza dough is made and the bread is baked fresh in-house each day.

“The dough is the difference,” notes their website, and Danny echoes the sentiment. “We definitely don’t use frozen logs of dough like some other places. We have our own mixer and make the dough fresh every day, starting at 5:30 in the morning,” he said.

And you can definitely taste the difference. If you try the fan favorite—the Italian combo—you’ll realize what a filling meal it makes. The heavenly sub roll is stuffed to overflowing with Italian sausage, ham, salami, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and mayo, then oven-toasted until the crust is crispy and the fillings are warm and melty. You may need a nap afterward.

Back in Michigan, these hearty subs are called grinders, from when Italian immigrants ran sandwich shops close to the shipyards in the early 1900s. They’d load freshly baked Italian rolls with meat and cheese, and sell these hot sandwiches to the men who worked at the docks grinding rivets from metal warships. The shop owners referred to their customers as grinders, and the popular sandwiches adopted the name, too.

Michigan native Dale Kelsey and his wife wanted to bring this amazing sandwich to Idaho, so they bought a fabulous dough recipe from Mancino’s Pizza and Grinders in Michigan and set up shop in Twin Falls in 1984.

Papa Kelsey’s thrived in Magic Valley, and one of their best customers was Danny Klassen, the manager of the neighboring Sizzler. He became friends with Dale and would trade salad bar coupons for an Italian combo. Over the years, they played on softball teams and faced off in racquetball, and Danny repeatedly asked when he could open up a Papa Kelsey’s, too.

“We became great friends,” Danny said. “And I kept telling him I wanted to open a Papa Kelsey’s. He finally said I could open one in Idaho Falls in 1991.” Danny jumped at the chance and moved his family here, where they’ve run the restaurant from the same location for 33 years.

Danny and his wife Alisa raised their four children here and agree that it’s a great place to raise a family. “There’s a hometown feel to Idaho Falls. It’s not too big and has a great community,” he said. 

And that community loves Papa Kelsey’s. They have a slew of regulars, some of which have ordered the same meal for the past three decades. 

“We have a lot of people come all the time and they often get the same exact thing. When they walk in we just get started on their order because we know exactly what they want,” Danny said. He also said they have consistent groups who will gather there on a certain day of the week, and a card club that reserves the party room for card games after their group lunch. The room can be reserved for baby showers, graduation parties, or other celebrations—and is offered for free just as long as they order Papa Kelsey’s food. 

It’s obvious when you meet this restaurant owner that Danny loves his customers. He spends significant time greeting everyone and asking how they’re enjoying their meal. “My favorite thing about running a restaurant really is the customers. I’m very social. I’m always out here talking to them. My employees don’t think I’m working, but really, I tell them this is how I get paid—by meeting everyone and being friendly,” he said.

The restaurant has come a long way from opening day, when not all of the equipment had arrived, the people kept coming, and they made a whopping $392 in sales. So it’s a great way to celebrate three decades of successful business with the Dining Award for best sandwich in town.

To try one of their subs, visit Papa Kelsey’s at 2285 E 17th St. from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday or 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

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