Dishing Up Innovation Series– Laura Leite – Belleville Telescope News
Three in a series. The pandemic has been a challenge for Republic county restaurants. Many found innovative ways to serve and support the community they call home. Over the next few weeks, the Telescope will take a closer look at local restaurants and how they have persevered.
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Michael and Dorothy Conger moved to Cuba from the Houston area in the Fall of 2020 after spending a couple of weeks with Dorothy’s parents and falling in love with the area.
“The two weeks we visited here, we ate at the restaurant almost every day and the owner expressed that she would be closing the restaurant because of COVID,” says Michael. “And I told some people that if I owned the restaurant, we would redo the whole thing, only be closed on Mondays and serve fried chicken every Wednesday and burgers on Wednesday night but have a different meal every day.”
“A few days later, the lady that owned the building came to me and asked if we would do what I had told people we would do,” Michael says. “I said yes, and she handed me the keys.”
That’s how Conger’s Czech Cafe was born.
“The former owner closed on a Sunday and we came in on Monday and cleaned. We contacted the State inspector, and he was able to get to the restaurant five days later. We opened the following Wednesday.”
Before moving to Cuba, Michael worked in NASCAR in merchandise sales, but that was a job that was affected by COVID. Dorothy was a driver for the school district and that position was another affected by the COVID closings in Texas.
Prior to moving to Cuba, Michael took positions with LYFT and Uber Eats, businesses that deliver meals to people in the city.
Area people turned out in good numbers to support the new business last fall. Then a COVID spike hit Republic County.
“Most of October and November were great but when December hit everything went downhill,” says Michael. “Harvest was over, and people started not getting out as much, so we’ve had to readjust our hours. On Tuesday and Thursday, we are just open for the community to come in and play cards in the morning, Wednesday is a big day with our fried chicken and burgers.”
Conger’s Czech Café has a special dish every day, but guests can also order off the menu. They often have homemade spaghetti or wings with four different sauces. “We have burgers and fries and have started making their own cheese sticks,” says Michael. “And our own pepper jack cheese balls.”
“The homemade cheese sticks and cheese balls are a result of some of the shortages of supplies that we have faced because of COVID,” says Dorothy. “In fact, after developing these for ourselves, people have expressed liking them better than the ones we used to buy.”
“I love being able to get up at five in the morning with a cup of coffee and stand outside without hearing anything,” says Michael. “Where we lived before in Baytown, sirens were all we heard.”
“Despite the challenges of COVID and the weather, we have enjoyed running the restaurant,” he says. “We have steak night once a month where you can get a steak, baked potato, salad, dessert and drink for $25. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have a $7 meal deal where we put together a special to help bring people in. We are doing what we can to keep open.”
“The Rock-a-thon in March was canceled, and we were counting on that for breakfast traffic,” he says. “That will make things difficult but hopefully the summer events will happen this year.”
The cafe’s fried chicken is a popular draw. “We have customers come from Concordia and as far away as Parsons to eat our Wednesday meal,” Michael says. “The steak night and Rocky Mountain Oyster night is also popular.”
Many people take advantage of take-out meals, or delivery in Cuba. “We are working on our marketing and planning to be one of the sponsors of a local racecar,” Michael says.
The restaurant plans special events around NASCAR and games. They plan to add outside seating, and smoked meats to the menu.
“We love how close we are to our work and the close-knit community here,” Michael says. “My three-year old can play outside without us worrying about him getting shot.
“Life here now is like it was when I was growing up. We can leave our windows down in the car or the house unlocked. Kids can come home when the streetlights come on like we used to.”
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