Yesterday, one of my closest and dearest friends, Martha Young, stepped down from running her own restaurant, Cafe Regis. She turned the reins of the restaurant over to the other owner of the cafe, Gary Ferguson, who will run it interim until they find a third party buyer to sell to.
In one way or another, I’ve worked under Martha’s careful care and loving direction for the past fourteen years.
We used to joke that I’ve quit the Cafe as many times as I’ve quit college. But I always came back after taking breaks. I’ve come back because the Cafe, and Martha, were formative in my development as an adult as a member of this community. I’ve come back because I truly love Cafe Regis; and because I have the utmost respect for Martha as a staunch friend, brilliant businesswoman, and incredible cook.
The magic of Cafe Regis – which anyone who has gone there has experienced – is entirely due to Martha; although she is too humble to admit it. Her heart and soul resonate in every part of the cafe – the colors of paint on the walls, the pots and pans in the kitchen, the menus, the layout of the tables, the very ambient energy of the cafe, were all handcrafted and maintained by Martha. Martha and Cafe Regis are inseparable.
Martha would tell you that her vision would not be possible without her dedicated employees, such as myself. She forgets, when she says this, that all of us would not have been able to contribute to the dream that is Cafe Regis without her unyielding but loving direction.
She’s been engaged in a legal dispute with the other owner of the Cafe, Gary Ferguson, for the last two years – a dispute that finally came to a head and placed them in front of a judge yesterday.
Ferguson filed for a court ordered dissolution of the Cafe a few years ago. In layman’s terms, this means that if he had prevailed in court, the judge could have ordered the restaurant shut down immediately – putting many employees out of work suddenly as well as shocking the community with the loss of a beloved institution.
He filed papers against Martha in part because he was unwilling to live up to a promise he made when they bought the property together. He made a promise to cover the monetary shortfalls of the property from his own personal funds – yet when the time came to do just that, he wanted out of his commitment. Dispute arose when Martha attempted to hold him to his word. The dispute became muddled and emotional and grew out of control. Martha and Gary had first a friendship, then a relationship, before all of this went down.
She was entirely prepared to go to trial over the dispute and had painfully built a very solid case built against her opponent, her friend of twenty-five years – a man who inherited his share of the cafe when his wife, Martha’s business partner, passed away unexpectedly.
I’ve stood by Martha since the Cafe’s inception. I’ve observed the entirety of this dispute from the inside. If she is guilty of any mistakes, it’s of assuming her longtime friend and inherited business partner was a person of character.
Yesterday before the trial, in the judge’s chambers, the judge informed both sides that, based on the information he had, he would likely rule that the cafe would be forced to either shut down or sell to a third party.
Taking her lawyers advice, my friend took a settlement that selflessly protected the jobs of
her employees for the next 18 months – at the expense of her livelihood and vision. She resigned, Gary is managing the cafe for the first time, and they have agreed to put the Cafe up for sale.
I worked with Martha for 14 years. In that time the Cafe became a part of my life – a feeling that was cultivated and developed by the incredible community of Red Lodge -a community that was brought together by the Cafe.
I learned how to wash dishes at the Cafe.
I learned how to prep food at the Cafe.
I learned how to cook at the Cafe.
I learned how to bus tables at the Cafe.
I learned how to serve tables at the Cafe.
I learned how to handle money and balance tills at the Cafe.
I learned how to contract with vendors for food orders at the Cafe.
I learned how to cater weddings at the Cafe.
But there’s more than that.
I learned how to problem solve at the Cafe.
I learned how to talk to anyone about anything at the Cafe.
I learned how to manage a business at the Cafe.
I learned how to make things right when we screwed up at the Cafe.
Be there’s more than that.
I met Ashley at the Cafe.
I was supported in my cancer treatment at the Cafe.
I made a community for Monster at the Cafe.
I married Ashley at the Cafe.
I laughed at the Cafe.
I cried at the Cafe.
And in every single case, Martha was there. Just Martha. Now Martha is no longer there. She sacrificed her place in the Cafe so her employees wouldn’t be jobless.
Without Martha, the Cafe is empty. And so, it is with great sorrow and a heavy heart, that I need to say goodbye to Cafe Regis. This restaurant was part of my life – beyond a business, beyond a building. The Cafe shaped me and challenged me to grow. The Cafe was there for me in so many hard times in my life. The Cafe celebrated with me in my joyful times of life.
And it was all due to Martha.
Goodbye Cafe Regis,
I’ll always love you