By BRENNA GRITEMAN
VANLUE — As the owners of the only sit-down restaurant in Vanlue, Amy and Jeremy Kloepfer are accustomed to diners from the village and surrounding Findlay and Carey singing their praises.
But on vacation 10 hours from home, the accolades come as a bit of a shock.
Such was the case this summer when the married couple of 19 years took their four kids for some rest and relaxation in Virginia Beach. Amy couldn’t believe her ears when she heard a woman from Findlay, upon noticing a Vanlue Wildcats logo on a fellow vacationers’ beachwear, announce: “Oh, the Wildcat Cafe is there. I love that place!”
Since opening in late August of last year, the small-town restaurant with the small prices has generated a huge buzz.
Yes, the burgers and fries are good. Sure, the pie is homemade by a well-known Amish baker. And of course, this is a gathering place where everybody knows your name.
But what sets the eatery apart from the rest is its generous support of local institutions.
About once a month, the Wildcat Cafe presents “Wildcat Wednesday,” during which every cent that comes in for dinner is donated back to the community. One “Wildcat Wednesday” raised about $1,300 for Flag City Honor Flight, while the most recent generated about $800 for fall sports programs at Vanlue High School.
Other dinner donations have benefited the local 4-H program, the community churches, the athletic boosters and Vanlue Community Organization.
A “Wildcat Wednesday” to benefit youth fall sports is up next. As the athletic director for Vanlue High School (Amy is his assistant) and a longtime football coach, Jeremy knows firsthand the costs associated with playing sports. And coming from a family of 11, he recognizes the likelihood of him having not gotten to play sports growing up if his parents had been required to shoulder the cost.
“I’ve coached for 30 years. I hate hearing kids say ‘my mom won’t let me play because we can’t afford it,'” he says. “Not on my watch.”
This model for giving back is how the Wildcat Cafe came to be.
Amy had been working at the restaurant — then known as GG’s Corner — when the former owners announced they’d be closing up shop. She floated the idea of buying the restaurant to Jeremy.
“In about a half a second,” he recalls, “I said no.”
After a bit more thought, however, he came around: “If we can help the school out, help the town out and donate back to all the nonprofits in town, then we’ll do it.”
A year later, the Wildcat Cafe employs a number of high school students from Vanlue and Riverdale high schools, and is a haven for residents looking for some good company. Even the Kloepfers themselves love to come up on Friday and Saturday nights just to talk to the customers.
One woman comes regularly for breakfast and is still there by dinnertime. She likes to read her book with a flurry of activity in the background.
Another man has his regular table and is the restaurant’s unofficial greeter, waving an enthusiastic hello and goodbye to every customer by name.
On a recent afternoon, Judy and Marvin Jameson were having a late lunch at the Wildcat Cafe. Judy says she and her husband, both veterans, are here three or four times a week — “sometimes more.”
The Jamesons say they come for great food and great service. On this day, both ordered the special: homemade egg salad.
“They make their own egg salad and it is good,” Judy declared, drawing out the o’s in “good.”
The restaurant, open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, is also known for its all-you-can-eat fish dinners. From 4-8 p.m. Fridays, diners can enjoy walleye, coleslaw and french fries, all for $9. (These hours are extended during Lent.)
Amy says she’s happy to devote the majority of her time and energy to the restaurant — even if that means she spends a lot less time cooking at home.
“I make great eggs and bacon. Not at home, but here,” she says.