Darla DuBois and her sister, Charlene Cook, were born with a fitting last name. The siblings love to cook.
So in 2007, they decided to make it their profession, opening Cook’s Corner Cafe in Dearborn and whipping up made-from-scratch comfort foods for their customers, who were mostly farmers, construction workers and others who craved good hearty meals.
But four years later the women were ready to shut the doors. They just weren’t making much of a profit.
That’s when Darla’s daughter, Cami DuBois Wagers, stepped in.
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Wagers, who grew up in Edgerton, Mo., remembers her mom cooking three meals a day (only getting a break at a Chinese restaurant on special occasions). Her mother would snap beans fresh from the garden, and make her own jelly, cottage cheese and butter.
Wagers had worked in restaurants from her teenage years until she became a stay-at-home mom of two. Then she started taking online classes with plans to earn a major in early childhood education and a minor in business so she could one day open a preschool.
But with the cafe about to to be sold or close down, Wagers got a bank loan to buy 50 percent of the restaurant. For the other 50 percent, she would cut a check to her mom and aunt monthly while also paying them as employees. They continued using the same family recipes that were a hit in Dearborn.
“My mom and her sister are good cooks but they didn’t like running a business — doing the payroll, the numbers, dealing with food distributors,” Wagers said. “I paid them off in a year and plan on paying the bank off this year.”
Wagers also tried adding new items to the Dearborn menu like wraps and an Asian entree salad.
“It didn’t go well. I love Dearborn but they wanted their cheeseburgers and tenderloins. It was so limited and I wanted to be creative,” she said. “I still wanted the made-from-scratch home cooking, that’s what America is missing, but I also wanted to spice it up a bit.”
So in May, Wagers moved the cafe to a strip center at 203 S. U.S. 169 highway in Smithville.
Its hot beef sandwiches and hand-breaded tenderloins are still among the top sellers. But office workers who are stuck at their desks all day often opt for healthier items like the lemon pepper grilled fish, she said. And to “spice it up,” she’s also added items like the Buffalo chicken wrap, a soup of the day, and entree salads.
Cook’s Corner Cafe also has daily specials like Friday’s catfish filet, Saturday’s smoked baby back ribs, and Sunday’s fried chicken. It has chocolate and coconut meringue pie daily, but also might have such flavors as lemon or peanut butter, as well as other desserts like strawberry cream cake. The breakfast menu includes ham and eggs, french toast, pancakes, omelets, breakfast sandwiches and biscuits-and-gravy.
“We make the noodles for our chicken and noodles, our own pie dough, we pound and bread our tenderloin, and we cut our french fries,” she said. “We go through a thousand pounds of potatoes a week. On Sundays we have seven cooks in the kitchen.”
Wagers didn’t worry that she would lose her Dearborn customers, “I’m fearless,” she said. And many of her former customers are making the trip to Smithville to support the restaurant. Some regulars even get a hug.
“My mother and my aunt are happy for me. They want to come in and have someone tell them what to do — make four pounds of mashed potatoes — then get a check at the end of the week,” Wagers said. “Sometimes I dream of that, too. But I wouldn’t be happy. I want to control what happens to me. I don’t want my future to depend on other people’s mistakes or accomplishments.”
To reach Joyce Smith, call 816-234-4692 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at JoyceKC