1991 - Volume #15, Issue #3, Page #18[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Town Bands Together To Save Local Cafe
The cafe had been anchoring the town's main business block for a long time, but high overhead and low profits took its toll. "With the-payments and upkeep on the building, I was struggling so much that I was going to have to close," says Brigitte Dill, owner.
But then the townspeople and farmers banded together to set up a corporation to keep the cafe going. They bought the building and sold shares to 75 stockholders. Brigitte owns the cafe business, but the corporation is now responsible for its up-keep. No dividends were promised to stock-holders and none are expected because there's little chance there will ever be any ` cash return on their investment. Profit, say the stockholders, is the availability of quality food service to the community. And there's no shortage of that, according to the 50 or more customers who patronize the now sound financial business every day.
Woodbine is largely a German community. Brigitte came to the U.S. from Germany nine years ago, and her two employees' and best friends are also natives of Germany. When Brigitte took over the cafe there was seating capacity for just 25 people. She remodeled a garage in back of the cafe which provided capacity for an additional 50 people. "The farmers all come in for coffee. There are always 15 or 20 here every morning. Sometimes there's a birthday or special occasion, when someone buys coffee and rolls, and the breakfast crowd reaches as many as 88 at a time."
Sometimes American dishes slip onto the "daily special" board, but Brigitte hates to admit it. "We cook mostly German food here, like goulash or sauerkraut bratwurst," she says. German food is highlighted on Sunday when the crowd usually swells. Some of her Sunday specials include zigeuner schnitzel, jaeger schnitzel, and roeaden with spatzle. The price is $5.50 on Sunday. "People seldom complain about the price of food. The only time they ever complained was when I increased the price of coffee from 40 to 50 cents a cup."
Since the corporation has taken the financial burden away from Brigitte, the business has been profitable. "It's paying for itself. I don't have any problems," says Brigitte, who has the option to buy the building back. She doesn't expect to do that. "The community likes to have us and we like to have them. The_farmers need us and we need them," she points out. "Even if it's a holiday and we're closed, they come in and make their own coffee."
Brigitte's tight budget doesn't allow advertising, but word of her German food has spread by mouth over a wide area. Other newspapers have published stories, and Brigitte has seen increased business be-cause of them. One time she even made the national news. "But that was when we were talking about closing down," says Brigitte. "They put my name in USA Today because I was broke, but I'm still in business now and they haven't printed that."
Business during winter months is some-times slower, but the Lions Club meets at the cafe twice a month and there are other special parties at Christmas and family gatherings to help make up for the slack in business. 4
German is not only in the menu, but in the decor of the cafe as well. Pictures, plates, and decorations from Germany, and even the German flag adorn the dining room of the cafe. German music often plays on the sound system.
Excerpted from Grass & Grain. Photo by Frank J. Buchman.
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