As with most little girls, Clara Ellis had a dream of what she wanted to do when she grew up.
“I always wanted to own a restaurant,” Ellis said, perched in what soon will be her and husband-to-be Clifford Peterson’s cafe in Gas.
Only the experience of ownership will be new to Ellis. She has worked in several restaurants and food service in Iola — where she was born and raised as Clara Goudy — as well as Kansas City. Peterson doesn’t have a culinary background but, said jokingly, “I’m good at eating.” He has carpentry skills, though, that have come in handy the past several months as the pair refitted what previously was Bonnie’s Corner Cafe.
They expect to open Ruth and Earl’s Downhome Cookin’ no later than July 1. The name refers to each of their middle names.
The building was owned by Dale Webb, a former Iola rural letter carrier who lives in Springfield, Mo., and had been for sale for some time. Webb called on Peterson to do some work on the structure. Peterson asked about its price and Webb “came back with a price we couldn’t turn down,” Ellis said.
They started work with a slow-but-sure approach on Nov. 11, a date they remember because of it being Veterans Day. They purchased what was needed — everything from napkin holders to commercial grade kitchen equipment to tables and chairs — from their paychecks. He continues to work in carpentry, but Ellis resigned from a job at Iola Housing Authority’s Townhouse March 1, and since has dedicated herself to the restaurant.
“I followed Mom (Jean Goudy) around when she worked for Herschel Perry (Perry’s Restaurant) and Menegay’s,” both in downtown Iola, said Ellis, 46. That’s when the restaurant bug bit and soon she was fantasizing about having a restaurant of her own.
“I hope everyone who comes in feels at home. We want the cafe to have a warm and inviting atmosphere,” she said. “That’s important. We don’t want people to walk into a dark and cold place, we want them to see smiles and friendly faces. I’m going to get to know everyone who comes in. I’ll call them by name, and give them a wave and a friendly good-bye when they leave.”
WHILE SPECIFIC operating hours will be decided closer to opening time, Ellis said they planned to open at 5:30 each morning.
“We’ll have a breakfast menu and a buffet and salad bar at lunch, along with a small lunch menu,” she said. “The main thing is we will prepare everything from scratch. We’ll buy hamburger and mash out for burgers. We won’t be cooking any frozen freeze fries.”
Ellis saves the best for last — desserts.
“I’ll make pies and cinnamon rolls and muffins and have them in a warm display cabinet,” she said, excitement growing with each word. “It’ll be hard for the coffee drinkers not to have something sweet.”
“DOING SOMETHING you love isn’t hard work,” Ellis gushed of the extended hours she and Peterson have put into opening the new venue.
Ellis and Peterson are looking to expand the staff beyond themselves.
“We have one lady who will help with cooking, and before long we’ll start looking for other help,” Ellis said. Their goal is to hire waitresses who share their attitudes. “We want people who are friendly and provide good service.”
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