ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
For Carolyn Spencer of Florence, running Shippy’s Town and Country Cafe with her family is a dream come true.
It’s a dream that stems from her days as a waitress at the Florence restaurant with her sisters, Spencer said, which were also during the cooking days of her mother, Audine “Shippy” Shipman.
“My mother was a longtime cook here, way back in the ’50s and ’60s,” Spencer said. “I used to have a dream that if I ever moved back home, I’d like to run this cafe because I worked here when I was a kid.”
Spencer’s dream became reality nearly 10 years ago when she moved back to Florence from Oklahoma with her husband, Edmond, to take over the restaurant from longtime owner Edith White.
“We just decided we were going to move back home,” Spencer said. “And you know, it just kind of fell into place.”
Spencer kept much the same about the well-established restaurant, including its name-for the most part.
“So many people knew it as Town and Country Cafe,” she said. “The only thing I added in memory of my mother was ‘Shippy’s.'”
That kind of honor and commitment to family is central to Town and Country’s success, Spencer said. She praised her family members and other employees for their skill and dedication to the restaurant.
“Really, it’s just a whole lot of teamwork,” Spencer said. “My employees are wonderful.
“You know, you can have employees,” she added. “But once they work for you and you get to know them, they’re just family.”
In addition to Spencer’s sister-in-law and her grandson, Dallas Wells, who comes home on weekends from Wichita State University to help out with mowing, the Town and Country family includes evening waitress Mary McCarty,, daytime cook Becky Harris– Spencer’s daughter–and evening cook Kara Hinton.
“Of all the things to do in a restaurant, the hardest thing to do is cooking,” Spencer said.
The two women sure do it well, Spencer said, if the customers’ responses are any indication.
“We just have so many good things,” she said.
It’s a close call, but their roast beef may top the list of favorites.
“We have that every day,” Spencer said. “It’s wonderful roast beef. We get a lot of compliments on it.”
Other Town and Country specialties include homemade chicken-fried steak, chicken fries and meatloaf, as well as Harris’s omelets and bread pudding.
Her homemade barbecue sauce is also a cafe favorite, Spencer said.
“We get people wanting the recipe for that,” she said. “We tell them it’s our secret recipe. It’s delicious.”
Most of the recipes have been around for a long time, she said, collected over the years and stored in an old tin recipe box.
“We make all of them,” she said of the recipes.
The cafe is known for their heaping portions of these tried-and-true dishes, she said.
“I think the prices are real reasonable,” she said. “People tell us we’re inexpensive compared to some places.”
They offer variety as well as quality and quantity, with different specials served during the daytime and evening each day.
Monday’s specials vary, Spencer said.
“We have whatever we want to have,” she said.
Ham-and-beans is the daily special and Mexican food the evening special on Tuesdays, fried chicken in the day and chicken-fried steak in the evening on Wednesdays, chicken-fried steak in the day and shrimp in the evening on Thursdays, salmon patties or some kind of fish in the day and catfish in the evening on Fridays, and Polish ‘n’ Kraut (polish sausage and sauerkraut) in the day and prime rib in the evening on Saturdays, she said.
All specials are served with choice of baked potato, mashed potatoes, hash browns or french fries, as well as Texas toast, the salad bar and tea or coffee. Mexican food is served with chips and salsa instead.
All this is offered in addition to breakfast all day, except on Sundays after 11 a.m.
A “Kids & Seniors” section offers meals ranging from $2.50 to $3.25 for “kids 12 and under and kids 65 and over,” Spencer said.
Open seven days a week, the cafe’s hours are 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday and Monday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The cafe has at least a couple of local patrons who take advantage of this early starting time, including a man in his late 80s named Taylor Rush, she said.
“Every morning he drives past our house to see if our porch light is on,” Spencer said. “If he thinks he doesn’t see a light, then he knows we’re awake and he comes on up here.
“So when we’re here to open up at 5:30, Taylor’s out there waiting for us,” she said.
“Then there’s another gentleman that usually comes up and makes the first pot of coffee every morning,” Spencer added.
“Matter of fact, if you’re here at 5:30 he might even serve you the coffee,” she added with a laugh.
Because the cafe has been around for so many years, older customers such as these two make up a large part of its clientele, Spencer said.
But those who visit the restaurant are just as varied as the food served there.
“We’re just like the title-Town and Country,” Spencer said. “We’ve had fancy people in and had country people in.”
The cafe is used to getting visitors from many of the surrounding towns in Marion County, from nearby in Cedar Point to farther away in Marion, she said.
“You get to know a lot of people,” Spencer said. “I’ve never met anyone I didn’t like.”
Because of this wide customer base, business has definitely been affected by the construction work that has closed U.S. Highway 77 indefinitely.
“I’ll be glad when the road construction is over,” Spencer said.
But Spencer has faith that some one greater than she and her family is keeping the business going.
“When I first opened up my business, I said, ‘I’m basing it on Jesus Christ,'” she said. “So I always have his picture hanging up.
“Whether we’re busy or whether sometimes we have our slow times, I know that I can always count on him,” she said.
Spencer also counts on the friendly support of neighboring restaurant owners, she said, to add to her business even as she gives some business in return.
Spencer said she and Vicki Covarrubias, the owner of Florence’s Holiday Motel and Angie’s Fast Food, sometimes refer customers to each other when one restaurant is open earlier or later than the other.
“There’s lot of times when we’re closed and if someone wants something, we tell them where to go eat,” Spencer said.
It’s this kind of teamwork that Spencer believes is crucial both within the Town and Country Cafe and in the community at large.
“If you can’t help each other out, you know, what’s the point?” she said. “I think we can all work together.
“There’s room for all of us.”
A RECIPE FROM
SHIPPY’S OLD TIN BOX
11/2 cups raisins
1 pound bacon pieces
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 large head broccoli, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups mayo (use less if preferred)
3/4 cup sugar
Mix ingredients and chill before serving.