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Restaurateur cooks up a better life

Staff writer

Cindy Taylor wants all of her servers to smile as they greet customers. It is one of her rules at her Marion restaurant, Cindy’s Family Café.

She also knows that approaching every day with a grin is an impossible proposition.

“I’ve had girls tell me, ‘Cindy, I’m having a bad day; I don’t know if I can do this,” Taylor said.

She believes in her own rule strongly enough to send a waitress home and take on extra work herself if need be.

This managerial approach was sired through Taylor’s struggles in the restaurant business. She knows about bad days.

On her first day at work in a restaurant and bar in Corvina, Alaska, Taylor witnessed a murder. A large man struck another man in the head with a bar stool.

The incident inspired a teenage Taylor to call her father, Howard Goddard, before he departed from Myrtle Creek, Ore., to join her. Unfortunately, there was no going back, he had already sold their restaurant in Oregon.

On her first drive up to Alaska, a seven-day journey from Oregon, Taylor used nearly all of her available money to repair the heater in the car so the group of travelers would not freeze in the Yukon. The rest of the ride she survived on a pancake and egg she purchased with her remaining money.

There was a definite culture shock to living in Alaska. Taylor spent many sleepless nights imprisoned in consciousness with the 2 a.m. sun looming in her window. It was a surprise for Taylor to find a full-grown moose in her garage one night. It was frustrating not to be able to shoot that moose in fear of receiving a 10-year prison sentence.

Taylor adjusted. She owned multiple restaurants with her father and brother, Loren, in the 20-year period she lived in Alaska. The stressors in Taylor’s life became the stresses of working in a restaurant.

Those stresses are numerous. She had the strain of juggling a restaurant ledger and the personalities of the staff. The pressure of constantly standing and moving has led to multiple back surgeries. Sometimes her back hurts so piercingly she retires to the back room of Cindy’s Family Café and screams at nothing. She turned to alcohol for relief, but she has been sober for 15 years.

When Taylor returned to Kansas in 1994, she subtracted the stress of owning a restaurant, instead working as a cook in Newton.

However, the emotional toll of a contentious divorce added mounting pressure. Taylor turned to prescription medication for relief.

She hit rock bottom about a year ago when she was arrested for possession of illegal drugs. It’s a mistake she wants to repay to the community; Cindy’s Family Cafe is her way to atone.

Taylor has worked in restaurants since she was 12. She dropped out of school to help her father run the restaurant in Oregon in the early 1970s. The restaurant business is what she knows.

The restaurant also required a lot of work. Taylor took over the restaurant from Richard Vogt in April. She managed the restaurant for Vogt during its time as Downtown Eatery. He told Taylor he was determined to close the Marion establishment down because it was not profitable.

Taylor bought Downtown Eatery under a 2½ year purchase agreement. She was left with no food and thousands of dollars of debt. But Taylor knew the restaurant was popular among residents, an important gathering spot for coffee and gossip.

With some help from local grocers, Taylor and her staff overcame a tumultuous first month in April. She said it is now making twice what it was when it was Downtown Eatery.

She has tried to build a family atmosphere at her own restaurant; that’s how she ended up in the name. Loren works in the restaurant part time. Taylor’s cousins Chellee Wiebe and Charlotte Ramsey are integral full-time staff members. Even Taylor’s 11-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, has made some limited appearances clearing tables.

“Everybody loves Chloe,” Taylor said. “I would hope to leave this to her some day.”

With the changes Taylor has made to the environment at Cindy’s Family Café, she said she is happier and more energized. Her staff members have noticed. She has rehired everyone who quit under Vogt.

Taylor hopes the customers have noticed, too. She regularly tells people to keep coming in so she can keep the restaurant thriving.

“This place has made me happy,” she said. “I’m happy with my life.”

Last modified June 21, 2012

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