When Jon and Victoria Flatgard would visit cafes and restaurants, they would look around and comment on what could be improved.
As restaurant owners themselves - a fulfillment of a dream - they now empathize. It's not easy to get everything perfect, they say.
Photos by Karin Elton
Jon and Victoria Flatgard stand in their newly-opened restaurant, the Corner Cafe, in downtown Ivanhoe.
The Flatgards recently bought the former Breaktime Cafe in downtown Ivanhoe. Renaming it the Corner Cafe, they spent time cleaning, repainting and redecorating before opening recently.
"The restaurant is a work in progress," Victoria said. "We are, too."
The novice restaurant owners had been looking for the right place to buy for some time. Jon, a Westbrook native, saw an ad in the Peach and presented it to Victoria.
"It took me a week or so to say yes," she said.
She said the two had come close to buying other places but the finances weren't quite there.
"Then I thought we might as well give it a try," she said.
With help from the Lincoln County Enterprise Development director, Vince Robinson and Shad Lipinski of the Ivanhoe Economic Development Agency, all the pieces came together.
Former Ivanhoe mayor Sharron Steppes also was supportive, Victoria said, as were Ivanhoe residents in general.
"People asked when are we opening?" Victoria said. "They thank us for being here."
"They pitch in to help," said Jon. "They more than pitch in - when we were out of dishes, an older couple said, 'what can we do for you?'"
The Flatgards said they want to make the Corner Cafe Ivanhoe's restaurant, a place where young and old can feel welcome.
They have board games such as Yachtzee available for anyone to play and there is a daily afternoon card game that takes place.
One wall is painted a deep red to honor the Polish flag and also the Lincoln HI Rebels. Rebel and Eagles memorabilia is displayed on the wall and on ledges.
As a kid in Westbrook, Jon used to hang out at the Brook Lanes bowling alley. He wants Ivanhoe kids to have a place to congregate as well.
The other walls of the Corner Cafe are painted in colors that complement the mural on the wall - an outdoor scene that was painted in the 1960s.
After graduating from Westbrook High, Jon went into the military and then lived in Minneapolis for "30 to 35 years," he said.
Armed with an associates degree in food preparation and restaurant management, he managed four restaurants before getting burnt out. He drove truck for years since 1987.
After meeting Victoria through the Internet, Jon spent a year or so in New Hampshire before persuading her to move back with him to Westbrook.
The Flatgards own a bed and breakfast there which is used for weddings, reunions and funerals.
Wearying of the 120-mile roundtrip commute from Westbrook, the Flatgards are looking forward to fixing up the apartment above the cafe to stay in when they aren't in Westbrook.
Annoyed by teen-age servers who didn't show up on time in Minneapolis, Jon is glad he doesn't have that problem in Ivanhoe.
"We have a great staff here," he said. "They are respectful and have manners."
The young staff helps out during the lunch hours.
A former emergency medical dispatch operator, Victoria says she loves to cook.
Included on the menu are commercials - "We roast our own beef," she said - and homemade gravy, bread pudding and she's planning to do cobblers, homemade New England clam chowder - "it's just butter, heavy cream, bacon and clams," as well as a fish fry on Fridays.
Victoria said business is good.
"People are coming from miles around for the commercials," Victoria said. "Even people from Hendricks are sneaking over the border."
Victoria said she has heard Hendricks residents tend to only cater to Hendricks businesses.
She feels a little trepidatious about the upcoming Polish Days.
"About 5,000 people will be in town," she said. "We won't be able to handle our regular menu that day."
After the hurdle of Polish Days, she can tackle another goal for the restaurant which is providing Meals on Wheels for Ivanhoe.
"It's needed," she said. "It's an older community."
With all this on their plate, the Flatgards know they can't get to everything that needs to be done, they say.
"We no longer criticize when we go into a restaurant," Victoria said.