Late-owner of Linda's Cafe still has a place at the table, and in everyone's hearts
Some things at Linda's Cafe never change — the clinking of silverware against ceramic plates, coffee served in mismatched mugs, the banter between the staff and customers, the frequent line of customers that often goes out the door, and the cafe's founder Linda Lefaver's welcoming greeting.
Early Tuesday morning, two things were absent — the line out the door is usually only on weekends — and Linda, herself. Linda passed away Feb. 26, not long after being diagnosed with cancer. She's still smiling at her customers though, a large portrait occupies a place of honor on the cafe's east wall. Her infectious grin is also on the back of the menus with the words, "Linda, forever at our tables, always in out hearts."
"She was a practical joker," said George Beckwith of Stamford, Vt., as he waited for his western omelet and toast. "She always had a smile on her face, but she also always told it like it was. She was a very straight-forward woman who ran a tight ship."
Beckwith, a member of Northern Berkshire EMS, said he had been a regular customer since "day one," adding his favorite dish was steak and eggs on Sunday morning, and whatever he feels like ordering during the week. Also a frequent lunch customer, he said he especially likes the spaghetti special on Wednesdays and the "fabulous" fish and chips on Friday.
New owner Pete Wheeler, who also owns the Empire Cafe on Main Street, and Pam Lefaver, Linda's daughter and the cafe's manager/waitress ( "a damn good one," Wheeler said) took time out of their busy day to discuss the cafe and Linda's legacy.
"Linda's is the hometown cafe," Wheeler said. "It's where the locals go. It's like 'Cheers;' it's an extension of home."
Former area resident Michael Zeppieri proves that. "You may have come from Clarksburg," he kidded another customer sitting next to him at the counter, "but I came from the Cape [Provincetown, where he now resides], about four and a half hours away!" He added he was in Northern Berkshire once a week to check on properties he still owns here and divides his time between Linda's and the Corner Cafe in Adams.
"Linda nurtured her customers to make them feel like they were the most important people," he said, with a quick glance over at her portrait on the wall. "She always welcomed people with a smile and greeted them by name. I still expect her to pop out of the kitchen."
Gus Jammallo, of Clarksburg, has also been dining at Linda's Cafe "forever," he said, as he finished his breakfast. "The food's great and the prices are good. The homemade muffins are great."
Reminiscing about the cafe's former owner, he said, "Linda was very, very family-oriented. She loved her family and took care of her family all the time — kids and grandkids."
Pam Lefaver said her mother opened the cafe in 1995, creating her vision of a cozy spot that has remained the same for more than 20 years. The menu offers comfort foods like eggs, pancakes, French toast, omelets and corned beef hash for breakfast, and daily luncheon specials like shepherd's pie and meatloaf in addition to sandwiches and burgers.
Linda Lefaver had previously been a waitress at the former Capitol Restaurant on Main Street for many years. In fact, when the Capitol closed, its owner Alfred "Al" Galli came to work for Linda as the cafe's cook.
"We had some good times through the years," Galli said of Linda during a lull as he waited for orders. He seemed glad of the little down time, saying, "The last three days were record-breaking [in terms of the number of customers]."
He admitted, that like Linda had, he also knows the customers pretty well. "I know who wants what — and how they want it."
Galli said the corned beef hash is a "really hot" menu item, with ham and cheese omelets, and pancakes [which are the size of a dinner plate] running close behind.
"I had been Linda's friend forever," Wheeler said. "Originally, as a customer at the Capitol and then here. I talked to Linda when I was looking to buy the Empire. She was a friend and a business woman, and I wanted to get her advice. She said, 'Are you nuts?' and I kind of proved I was." Wheeler has owned the Empire now for a little over two years.
"Pam relayed a message to me in January that Linda wanted to see me. I went to her home and she asked if I wanted to purchase the cafe," Wheeler said. He did so in early February, but out of respect for Linda, kept the acquisition quiet until after her death.
Pam Lefaver, who has worked at the cafe since 1998 in addition to being a personal care assistant, stayed on at the cafe, per her mother's wishes. "I had to teach Pete everything Linda did in the back," she said. "She was my guide, I could always fall back on her for answers." She added the members of the staff are dedicated and hard-working. "Linda would kick us in the a-- if we weren't. She was very dedicated on how the staff ran and wouldn't let us slack off."
Wheeler said there only have been very subtle changes made at the cafe since he took over. Some things, like the silverware now being wrapped in a napkin, were simply updating and bringing everything up to code. Changes to the menu include the addition of fish and chips on Friday ("damn good fish and chips" he said) and the addition of sausage and gravy to the weekend breakfast specials.
"We're looking to change the menu so it doesn't become stagnant and boring," Wheeler said. "We're thinking of new things to add to the menu that Al won't have to cook; he's too busy already. We're also looking to change the daily specials."
In the future, Wheeler hopes to combine both cafes and run them as one business, at a new location to be determined. "The Empire Cafe is geared to tourists and Linda's is geared toward the locals. It would be nice to combine both."
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