- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2020

PRAGUE, Neb. (AP) - Business isn’t so brisk these days at the Kolac Korner Cafe in Prague, Nebraska.

Mark Nemec still cooks pork and duck dinners with all the fixings on Sunday, burgers on Tuesday and fried fish on Friday, but it has all been takeout since the coronavirus swept across the country.

“I’m holding my own,’’ he said. “I have a lot of good family support and faithful supporters of the restaurant. I am one of the stable businesses in downtown Prague. They are helping out every way they can.’’

Shutdowns and social distancing are affecting many in the village an hour west of Omaha - just like in the rest of America.

It’s a farming community and few are making the drive into town for breakfast or lunch when they can’t sit down and talk with friends. City Hall is closed as well as the park. There had been no services for several weeks at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church at the top of the hill.

“Everything has just been different,’’ village Chairwoman Marlene Wade told the Omaha World-Herald.

But a few days ago a local family stopped by for some beverages to go for a birthday celebration and asked Nemec if he would step outside with his accordion and entertain them with a song.

They maintained proper social distancing of 6 feet as he played for an hour.

“I started out with ‘In Heaven There Is No Beer,’ the Husker fight song - they loved that - and the Beer Barrel Polka,’’ he said.

Nemec has been entertaining customers with his button Novak accordion for most of the 28 years the restaurant has been open. If it’s someone’s birthday, he’ll gather up a kolache and a candle and brighten the moment with a song. He spins tunes at the Friday fish fries, too.

Now, on really nice afternoons and evenings, he sets up outside the restaurant with his accordion and his phone, so he doesn’t miss an order, and plays.

People drive by and honk and sometimes yell out a request.

“It makes me feel good and it makes others feel good,’’ he said. “They come walking down the street with a stroller or rounding the corner in their pickup and you see them smile right away and wave.’’

It’s always great to hear, says Roger Paseka, president of the Bank of Prague.

“It’s one of those small-town things that adds a little touch or flair to it,’’ he said as he enjoyed a takeout lunch from the restaurant.

Nemec just loves music. His dad, Adolph, formed a polka band, the Adolph Nemetz Orchestra. His nine children played in it, one by one; Nemec was on the drums.

He charges if he entertains at events or steps in with other bands, but never for the nursing home residents he plays for on Mondays when the restaurant is closed.

“God gave me this talent. I look at it as giving a gift back to God,’’ Nemec said. “If people pay me, it’s no longer a gift.’’

Nemec’s dad also was behind the family’s coffee stop, which began about 10 years before the restaurant opened. It was a hit with Husker football fans driving to Lincoln for games.

“Back when Nebraska was still in the Big Eight, my dad had the idea of selling kolaches on the Highway 79 corner, right where the homestead is,’’ Nemec said. “He had some big plywood sheets that were painted white. ‘Husker Fans, free coffee, half a mile.’ ’’

The family would lure them in for the coffee and keep them coming back with homemade kolaches, cinnamon rolls and apple strudel. It became so popular that fans would call ahead with their orders.

That convinced his sister, Debbie, that they should open the restaurant. Everyone has helped through the years, but Nemec is the only family member left now at Kolac Korner.

He never married or had a family, because the restaurant was always his baby.

He doesn’t want it to end now because of what he calls a “stupid coronavirus.” His voice gets a little shaky just talking about it.

He wants people to know it’s a nice drive from Lincoln or Omaha. He’ll have the duck waiting with dressing, dumplings, sauerkraut and gravy and rye bread.

“I’ll be darn,’’ he says, “if I’m going to let the virus shut me down after 30 years in business.’’

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