ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
The average restaurant that’s celebrating 10 years in business might shell out a few bucks for party decor and some special treats to please its patrons.
Main Street Cafe in Durham, on the other hand, might have actually disappointed fans of its self-proclaimed “good ole country cooking” by temporarily closing its doors during the second week of October, just days after the cafe’s 10-year anniversary.
But more than a few bucks later, the cafe has reopened with a bigger and better look that should please its patrons much longer than any birthday bash would have lasted.
Such a celebration had originally been in the works for a while, said owner Wendell Wedel.
“We had always planned on it, but it seems like that’s a lot of work for something special,” Wedel said. “If you draw any size of crowd, that’s a big workout.”
Wedel said they opted instead to put their manpower toward more permanent changes, including a nearly doubled seating capacity because of expansion next door into what was formerly a library.
“We call it the library room,” said Wedel of the adjacent area, which has added about 36 seats to the 45 available in the main room.
And at first glance, it’s hard to tell which of the two rooms was there first, now that the main seating area has also had its walls freshly painted and papered, its windows adorned with new curtains and sturdy new tables and chairs set atop its new tile flooring.
About all that’s stayed the same in the restaurant, Wedel said, is the front door and the antique display case filled with area crafts for sale.
And, of course, the home-cooked food that customers have come to expect and appreciate.
“A lot of our cooking is made from home recipes,” Wedel said. “I always think, if you’re willing to work, the food is better.”
And Wedel has made sure that even the basic food items they use in the cafe come fresh rather than frozen: “We boil our own farm-fresh eggs, peel them and put them on the salad bar instead of buying frozen from a truck,” he said.
Among other food items made from scratch by Wedel and wife Linda are the macaroni and potato salads on the salad bar, fresh-baked pies for dessert-and the homemade German sausage that started it all 10 years ago.
“I wanted to market my sausage,” said Wedel of his reason for opening the cafe.
“There seemed to be a market for it, and I was looking for something,” he added. “Then this opened up, and I thought this would be a way-if I could get a room back there for my sausage-to serve it and also sell it.
“And that’s what we did.”
In addition to selling it for $2.49 per pound from his freezer at the front of the cafe, Wedel offers his sausage in a sandwich on the lunch menu, as well as both baked and grilled on the Friday-night buffet from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The popular buffet also boasts barbecue pork, cherry moos, verenika, sauerkraut, baked potatoes, fried catfish, hush puppies and marinated grilled chicken, combined with an all-you-can-eat salad bar, drinks and dessert for about $9 plus tax.
Other specials accompany Wedel’s sausage on the lunch menu throughout the week, he said.
Saturday is Monterey Day, when patrons can order a fried-flour tortilla filled with refried beans, meat, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes for $5 with a salad bar.
Montereys are also offered on the first Monday and third Thursday of every month, Wedel said.
Other specials include Tuesday’s fried chicken, Friday’s chicken-fried steak and Wednesday’s top-selling bierrocks, which have brought up to 100 patrons in the lunch crowd, Wedel said.
“It just seems like everybody wants to go eat out on Wednesdays-it’s amazing,” he said.
“Maybe it is the bierrocks, I don’t know.”
Most of the cafe’s recipes come from family and church cookbooks,Wedel said, so it’s essentially “Mennonite cooking, you might say.”
The most recent addition to his tried-and-true menu is a breakfast casserole on Saturday mornings.
“We’ve been having that now for probably four or five months,” Wedel said.
“That’s been going over pretty good,” he added. “Last Saturday we were out already by 9 o’clock.”
Served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, the cafe’s breakfast menu is nothing fancy, Wedel said.
Favorites include the old stand-bys of biscuits and gravy, sausage, eggs, hash browns and pancakes.
But customers sure have a hankering for his homemade syrup, Wedel added, and they’ve approached him with some interesting ideas of what the ingredients in that syrup might be.
“You should hear some of the stuff they come up with,” he said. “It’s really funny.”
For now, Wedel plans to keep the surprisingly simple recipe a secret, as he just might try to market it commercially soon, he said.
In addition to Wedel’s sausage, the cafe also sells some bulk foods as well as milk, eggs and ice from the refrigerator and freezer at the front of the shop.
Customers can also take home larger orders of the cinnamon rolls and pies they enjoy with their meal, Wedel said.
At $1.75 per slice and $8.50 for a whole one, the cafe’s fresh-baked pie selection varies day-to-day, Wedel said.
“There are certain ones we have just about every day,” he said. “Coconut is a good seller-we have that every day.”
Close behind coconut in popularity are peanut butter, Hershey almond, raisin cream and pecan, as well as classic fruit pies like apple, peach, apricot, blueberry, cherry and strawberry-rhubarb.
Pumpkin pie is a seasonal favorite, Wedel added.
Other bakery items are available by special order-for example, “if somebody wants butterhorns, we make them,” Wedel said.
He added that future plans include expanding the cafe’s baking area and maybe someday its selection of baked goods as well.
“There’s another room in the back that’s not fixed up yet, but I eventually want to have that as a bakery,” he said.
“I’m hoping to get moved in there within the next few months, but it’ll probably more or less just be continuing like we have been.”
If they did expand their bakery line, Wedel said they would likely make not only their own loaves of bread and buns for retail but also for the sandwiches, burgers and French toast served at the cafe.
For now, Wedel said he’ll have fun experimenting with his newest piece of machinery.
“Since I’ve got my meat smoker now, we’re going to be getting into more smoked meats,” he said.
These will include smoked turkey for Thanksgiving, he said.
So why is Wedel’s cafe outgrowing its space while other small-town diners struggle to survive?
Wedel said it’s a combination of consistently good food, good atmosphere and good service.
“You can be good in one thing and not in another,” Wedel said. “It seems like it takes all of them added together.
“We hope they like the atmosphere, we hope they like the food and we hope they like our service,” he added.
“And we hope they come back-and when they do come back, we feel like we’re satisfying them.”
Hearing customers express satisfaction is his favorite part of the whole business, Wedel said.
“The compliments we get-that’s worth it all,” he said.
“That’s what keeps me a-going.”