Monday, December 14, 2009

A Heaping Spoonful of Hospitality Topped with Healthy Eats


photo shows Debbie greeting customers

When the lights come on and the door opens at 7 a.m. for the breakfast crowd, Debbie’s Café at 6 North Main Street, Wayland, becomes animated after a long night’s silence. Conversations drift from table to table mixing with aromas floating from the kitchen.

There is a comfortable atmosphere to the café, and customers, more like members of an extended family, are accustomed to getting their own coffee while bantering with others. It’s a quiet level of talking at first, but chatter crescendos as more coffee is poured and the place fills up.

One large hand painted table in the middle of the room fills rapidly with men who have know each other for a long time, and have enjoyed eating together. For their convenience the café keeps a large pump coffee thermos on their table for ease in refills, making it seem more like breakfast at home than out at a restaurant.

Artwork is hanging on the walls worthy of more than a glance, and gives the place a contemporary, bright look.

Owner, Debbie Vanscooter, says in her calm voice,” There is no clock on the wall. We don’t want people to feel rushed, but relaxed, taking their time and having some good conversation, even if it is for a short time.”

When the café originally opened in September 2006 under the name, Heavenly Pastries and Coffees, Vanscooter’s aim was to provide a high quality coffee from a local roaster, Finger Lakes Roasters, and unique pastries made from all natural ingredients.

“Somehow the misconception that the café was just a bakery, and not a place to sit down for awhile needed to be re-imaged,” stated Vanscooter.

As the place became more popular the customers asked for breakfast and lunch service. After a year of research and menu development, a non-diner food concept featuring specialty wraps, a unique garbage plate and fresh salads was introduced.

“It was the customers that came up with the new name, Debbie’s Café, and offered ideas for menu choices. We have stayed away from fried foods.”

By 8 a.m. the early birds have left, and the café refills with walkers who have completed their workout laps for the day, business people on a later schedule, retirees and couples having a more leisurely meal. The soft jazz in the background adds to the pleasantness of the place, and those gathered there have warm greetings for others arriving making breakfast out a special occasion.

“Our hearts are open to people’s situations,” says Vanscooter thoughtfully as she looks around admiringly at her place. “I train my staff to make a personal connection with each person, and not to be nosy. We try to remember something about that person, especially their name, for their next visit.”

Over the last four years Vanscooter recalled three regulars who left for nursing homes, and although she was saddened at their departures, she was happy for their wise decisions.

A number of customers are undergoing chemo treatments and they keep the staff abreast of their progress, which often occurs in a quick conversation at the register while paying their bills.

Its not easy coming back to a familiar place after a spouse has passed on, but several folks have returned to the café finding new sets of friends, which makes Vanscooter gratified observing them smiling once more.

At 9 a.m. coffee break time the fresh sticky buns are out of the oven, so Vanscooter has a little more time to sit and talk with her regulars and greet a newcomer temporarily setting up office with his laptop in the corner. The buns go quickly as people hurry in from nearby businesses knowing that in another hour this delicacy will be sold out.

Two gentlemen from a business across the street stop in as they have done faithfully since the opening day of the café. Vanscooter remarks laughingly, “ Those two have seen the place go through its changes encouraging me all the way, even though they pretend to give me a hard time.”

It’s almost like act two of a play when lunchtime rolls around because the place takes on a different tone. The crowd keeps the staff on their feet serving homemade soups and sandwiches. Vanscooter goes from table to table sharing information about special coming events in the side room. She polls people for be interest in a New Year’s Eve celebration. The phone rings with takeout orders that are rushed to the kitchen.

The most challenging morning that Vanscooter ever had at the cafe was last summer when cyclists on a national tour came for breakfast. She was told by the event planner to expect around fifteen cyclists who had stayed in Dansville overnight. She was surprised when seventy-five walked in the door! It worked out fine- everyone got fed, and obviously well enough, because they all wanted to come back next year.

“Our customers feel comfortable here and they come to the kitchen door to chat briefly. Often they will clean their own table and bring their dishes to me.”

It might be trite to say that Debbie’s Café is a “place where everyone knows your name”, but Vanscooter remarks, “she hopes people prefer supporting a local business that goes the extra mile.”

Debbie’s Café is open Mondays and Tuesdays from 7am to 11 am; Wednesdays thru Fridays from 7 am to 2 pm; Saturdays from 7 am to noon. Check the website at http://www.debbiescafe.com/ for complete menus and events.