In Downtown Bay City, Downies Cafe has been a breadfast and lunch meet¬ing place for locals for years. The cafe which sits next to Center Market on 5th Street, used to be part of Bay City Market owned by Charles Downie, his wife Hazel ran the cafe on the north end of the market. It’s been handed down through the family and now is on it’s third generation of Downie ownership.
“My mom decided to open a cafe because she was involved in restau¬rants through her family,” Karen said. “Dad remodled the spot on the north end of the store and she had her cafe.”
Back then Hazel prided herself on her cooking, especially her baking focusing on the best pies in the area and the biggest and freshest cinnamon rolls for miles.
The Cafe was passed down to Charles and Hazel’s daughter Karen Downie and she ran it for the next 25 years, keeping Hazel’s already successful business model.
“When mom and dad retired, Ken (Karen’s brother) took over the store and I took over the cafe,” Karen said. “My mom started this cafe and she could really make pies, her gift was feeding the family, so we’ve always been stuck on large portions because of that.”
When it came time for Karen to retire, she brought in her two daughters, Jen Malcom and Joni Roberton who run it today, but still pride themselves on baking the best pies and cinnamon rolls, just like their grandmother Hazel, who is now 97, did so many years ago.”
Taking over the cafe for Jen and Joni seemed like a natural progres¬sion, and would keep the family business intact. So after 25 years, Karen handed over the business her mother had handed down to her, one she nurtured for a quarter of a century to her daughters.
“Both my girls worked for me over the years,” Karen said. “Really they are good workers, they bought the cafe from me in 2007.”
But, Karen would not give up the cafe that easily. She said, they did a trial run for a few months. “She had to make sure she was ready to turn it over to us,” Jen said.
So, what’s the secret to Downies Cafe success? Jen says they have the best cinnamon rolls and pies, and their breakfast are cooked to order, everything is fresh and purchased lo¬cally when they can. Like the bacon they buy from Reed and Hertig in Warrenton, the same place they have always bought it.”
“Our pancakes are made from scratch, it takes two days to make our hash browns,” Jen said. “That’s the unique thing about our cafe — everything is homemade and fresh, our meat is from Tillamook Meats for all of our steaks.”
Karen still comes by to visit with the customers and check on her daughters. She says it’s nice to come into the cafe, it feels like home. “We have our daily customers, a lot of mine are gone now and I miss them so much,” Karen said. “I met so many people having this cafe, so many good people.”
Now that the girls have had the restaurant almost 10 years. They are busy every morning, crank¬ing out plate size pancakes, made to order bacon, fresh eggs, baked goods until after the lunch crowd dies down.
“My girls have it all set up,” Karen said. “The staff as been with us for years — Raul Camacho and Shelly Green handle the cooking and Ragan Bradish has been our waitress for a long time. “Everyone is cross trained to do whatever job is needed. Raul is constantly getting recruited by other restaurant owners, but he has been with us for a long time and we love Raul, and Shelly is the friendly tornado, she goes 100 miles per hour — we have a great staff.”
Karen admits that it was the groundwork her mother Hazel laid over the years as the biggest reason the cafe is still successful today.
“We had a business built up by my mom and I did not change a thing,” Jen said. “Good homemade old fashioned comfort food, but we will make anything for our custom¬ers, if they want a burger at 6 a.m. we make it for them — everything on our menu is served all day long, breakfast or lunch.”
Jen admitted that having her mom stop in is nice, she said she usually puts her to work.
“Mom woks for us sometimes, but she likes to chit-chat so sometimes we have to crack the whip on her… not really,” Jen said.
But early on, Jen and Joni almost passed on the business venture. Jen says that if it were not for her Grandfather, Charles, they might not have taken over the business.
“We didn’t want to do this at all, but my grandfather told us we couldn’t let it go,” Jen said. “He told us it would always feed your family, so we decided to do it, I’m glad we did and I’m glad we did it together.”
And as long as Jen and Joni follow Hazel’s business plan for the place and Karen’s work ethic and drive, it should be around for many more years.
“We don’t do a lot of advertising, it’s word of mouth,” Jen said. “We don’t see the ups and downs this place has always been supported by the locals and our steady customers. It gets a little slower in the winter, but not that much.”
The cafe is open seven days per week for breakfast and lunch, rain or shine all year long from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We have served neighbors during power outages,” Jen said. “When they could not cook, we fired up the grill and cooked for them, we are all family here.”