Hungry in Hubbell? Candie’s got you covered

You Hungry? Eat Here or We’ll Both Starve.” So says the sign that’s been sitting outside of Candie’s Corner Cafe, located along M-26 in Hubbell, Michigan, nearly every morning for the last 10 years.

You Hungry? Eat Here or We’ll Both Starve.” So says the sign that’s been sitting outside of Candie’s Corner Cafe, located along M-26 in Hubbell, Michigan, nearly every morning for the last 10 years.

by Deborah K. Frontiera

The inside of this little hometown restaurant is welcoming to all—easy going, down home, country style. Every day except Mondays, when the restaurant is closed, patrons can dine among other equally sardonic signs. Take for example, these insightful words: “Three Wise Men? Seriously?” (The men who come in laugh too.) Or the one near the door: “Complaint Department,” with an arrow pointing toward the exit. Or: “We offer 3 kinds of service: Good, Cheap, Fast. You can pick any two. Good service cheap won’t be fast. Good service fast won’t be cheap. Fast service cheap won’t be good.”

Owner Candace Schmitt’s customers know they can count on a bountiful breakfast, sumptuous soups, superb sandwiches and plenty of other goodies at her restaurant. Her regulars know they’ll be welcomed like family. Her employees often know exactly what those regulars want before they say anything.

I know, because I’m a regular after church on Sunday.

“Two French toast, not three, a side of sausage and decaf, no cream. Right?” the wait staff says to me each Sunday.

Right it is! I’m such a creature of habit, but the hint of cinnamon in Candie’s French toast is irresistible.

On August 21, Candie invited all her customers to celebrate the restaurant’s 10th anniversary. All food was free, but we were told to bring a beverage and a chair. There were also plenty of picnic tables placed under tents in Tamarack Park, a bit east of the restaurant. From 1 to 4 p.m. on that sunny afternoon, with a nice breeze to keep us all comfortable, Candie treated her customers to the music of local band Sound Waves, and served up over 175 plates of barbeque chicken, hot dogs, chips and dips, two kinds of pasta salads, tons of beans, a hash-brown potato casserole, fresh rolls and the list goes on and on and on … I could not fit everything on my plate, and was too stuffed when I finished to go back for the things I missed.

I talked to many of the people there, asking them why they loved Candie’s. I started taking names, but soon found there were far too many to record. Here is some of what I heard:

“The waitresses know me: three eggs over easy, sausage and toast.”

1610-loc-candie-1“Favorites? Ham and cheese broccoli omelet; two slices of slab ham, hash browns, pancakes from scratch, scrambled eggs, a variety of types of breads, everything. Candie’s sausage is homemade, and goes into country omelet, sausage and biscuits, etc.”

“Candie had treated us to a meal on our wedding anniversary.”

“She’s such a hard worker; the waitresses are great; it’s easy to joke around; she’s friendly and welcoming; a great cook, a friend; great atmosphere; everybody knows your name” (The TV show Cheers immediately came to mind at that comment).

“The food is always just right; she always cooks from scratch; you can ask for something special not on the menu; the food is the best around and cheaper; there is nothing bad about her; we have pancakes every Sunday.”

One couple from Southeast Wisconsin who come to the Copper Country for their summers said, “She’s such a nice lady, such a hard worker. It’s the cutest little place to eat. We look forward to getting up here just to come in.”

A few days after the party, I went to Candie’s at closing time so she would have a few minutes to talk. After all, running a restaurant is no easy feat, and Candie had been doing it successfully in a small town for 10 years.

Candie told me she had been cooking at a different local restaurant for over 20 years, but then had to quit over a disagreement with the new owner of that establishment. She tried another career but didn’t like it—cooking seems to be in her blood. She tried working at a chain restaurant in Houghton but found she didn’t like that either. Their procedures were foreign to her.

“I fold my omelets; they wanted them rolled. They wanted everything weighed and measured; I just grab a handful. They had two people on each grill and we would get in each other’s way,” she said.

It seems it was impossible for Candie to work for anybody else.

She had discussed opening her own place with some friends, but couldn’t see where she would find the money needed for such a venture. Then one of her former customers, a good friend for over 25 years, approached her and offered to buy the present building for her. With that help, she could borrow enough for the furnishings, equipment, remodeling the inside of the building, etc. The building had formerly been a coffee shop, so drastic changes weren’t needed. She was surprised that all the paperwork for the health department didn’t take as much time as she thought it would. With help from friends and a lot of “sweat equity,” she opened in late October of 2006.

It didn’t take long for former customers to follow her to her new spot. Ten years later, she’s still going strong. Some people come in for coffee five days a week. There’s a couple who drive all the way from Chassell (almost 20 miles away) at least twice a week—even in the worst winter weather. Others come regularly from Houghton, Hancock, Calumet and other places. She’s lost a few customers over the years, of course, but gained many more in their place.

1610-loc-candie-4

Running a kitchen six days a week isn’t always conducive to easy living. It’s hard to take any kind of vacation. With her small staff, even having one person gone for a week makes it tough on everyone else. Candie’s is closed on Mondays—when Candie does her shopping for the week—and has a part-time cook who takes the owner’s place on Fridays, when she shops for the weekend. She tried to close for a week in June for a couple of years, but found that was not the best for business. Currently, she closes for the week of Thanksgiving, but even that isn’t a true vacation. Cleaning jobs like shampooing the carpets take more than a day.

“The carpets don’t dry in one day, and if you open again, people just track in more dirt onto damp carpet,” Candie said.

Owning a restaurant, and being the main cook, is a lot of work, but Candie looks at it as a lifestyle.

“I like to cook, love being around people. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. My customers and employees are like family,” Candie said. “If I have to be gone, I can leave my employees and not worry. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“I’d like to say a big thanks to all my regular customers for being here for the past 10 years,” she added. “I hope to serve you another 10 years and I love you all.”

Even with all that good, Candie would advise people to think long and hard before opening a restaurant. So many fast food places are opening up, and in a rural area, there are only so many people. There’s lots of competition—many small restaurants have had to sell out. Even a 10 cent price raise to cover increased costs must be carefully considered. All across the country, it’s “feast or famine.”

Hence that sign: “Eat here or we’ll both starve!”

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.