Westbrook woman has 'The Recipe' for success
WESTBROOK -- When a new café, The Recipe, opened its doors in January in Westbrook, it fulfilled both a community need and its owner's dream of running a restaurant.
"It was the bowling alley-café when it closed seven years ago," explained Angie Knakmuhs Horkey about the space that now houses her restaurant, The Recipe. "So other than eating at the bar, there was not a place. You could go to the gas station and get a pizza, or you could go to the bar to eat, but that was it."
Angie, who moved to Westbrook at the age of 3, had worked at a variety of jobs before she began seriously contemplating starting her own business.
"I went to school in Granite Falls to be a legal secretary, but when I graduated from that, there weren't any jobs around here," explained Angie, who has been married to husband Ronald for 25 years. "I had done child care. I did that for a long time while my kids were growing up. ... I worked at Rolling Hills Golf Course for a couple of years, the grocery store in town for a few years, and then I did Senior Dining for Lutheran Social Service for five years before I got into this."
The Senior Dining gig showed Angie the need for a café/restaurant in the community.
"I had always wanted to do something like this," she said. "Several years ago, I looked at a bed and breakfast kind of deal, but that wasn't meant to be. There were some roadblocks there. But I'd always thought about doing this, and last year my husband just said, 'We've talked about it, you've wanted to do this. So let's just do it.' He's a pretty good guy."
"Doing it" was easier said than done, however. The Horkeys began work on the former bowling alley/café space in January 2012, taking a year to complete the major renovation.
"The building had sat empty for all seven years, so there was major work that had to be done," Angie said. "We basically gutted the whole bowling alley, ended up having to replace all the sewer lines, rebuilt some of the flooring, moved the bowling lanes together to make a floor for our party room. You can't have a wood floor in the commercial kitchen, so we had to pour cement and put in tile floor."
"The building trades class at the school came in and helped build the interior walls for the bathroom, the dividing kitchen walls," Angie continued. "It was a good experience for those kids to do a project that wasn't a throw-away project. And it was fun to see the kids come in after we opened and say, 'I helped to do this.' Even some of their parents and grandparents would come in to see what they did."
The students' help was greatly appreciated, as the Horkeys took on the bulk of the revamping with some help from local contractor Doug Lee construction.
"You just take the advice of a whole bunch of people, and I guess what you've got is what we have today," said Angie. "There were so many days when you would look and think, 'What are we doing? Are we getting anything done?' You can only do so much and then wait for an inspection before you can go on to the next step. But it was really worth it when we look at what we started with, and the comments that people have. They are so impressed with how nice it is. That's what makes it all worth it, because you know you did a good job."
The Recipe is now open seven days a week, but only for breakfast and dinner. Angie hopes to begin offering supper service sometime this spring.
"I serve what I call Midwest fare," she said. "I have a daily noon special on Monday through Friday, meat and potatoes, vegetable and dessert, and the same sort of thing on Sunday -- maybe roast beef and mashed potatoes. This Sunday, it's ham. But we also have burgers, salads, the short-order kind of stuff."
Currently, Angie is working seven days a week. It's a lot of hours, but so far it's been a labor of love.
"I am the cook, and I do have one other gal who cooks along with me," she said. "We take turns, and I have about eight waitresses. It's the kind of community where they want to work a couple days a week for a few hours, and I have a few high school girls who get their time in on the weekends."
Although it's only been a couple of months, Angie has gotten to know her customers' habits.
"We've discovered they like to eat breakfast a little later in the morning," she said. "I have a few who come in around 8 (a.m.), but more so come in around 10 for breakfast. Dinner has been the really big thing, which is awesome. I do about 50 specials a day.
"Part of that is we do a diner's club for the people who are 60 years of age and older. They can get a balanced meal for a reduced price, and that does include Meals on Wheels, which is for Westbrook, Storden and Jeffers. But there are also people who come in and just like to get the special, or maybe they just want a burger. We do lots of burgers."
After working with the Senior Dining program, Angie gets a special satisfaction about providing a service for the community's older population.
"So many of them don't eat a balanced meal," she said. "They'll have a bowl of soup and think that's a full meal."
But serving a balanced -- and varied -- menu every day of the week can be a bit daunting.
"I think that's the challenge -- figuring out what they want," Angie said. "Yes, they like the meat and potatoes, but you can't do roast beef every day, although some will tell you you can. But I'm always trying to make things different, using a different recipe.
"One day I was looking through a recipe book, and my mother said, 'What do you do -- serve a different recipe every day?' And I told her, 'Yes --that's why we call this place The Recipe.' We do like to experiment with recipes. It's been fun, and it's been fun to have people bring in recipes that we can make. That's something that I've asked: If you do have a favorite recipe, bring it in, and we'll make it someday."
One of the regulars at The Recipe is Westbrook resident Jim Erickson, who began participating in the Senior Dining program when his wife died in 2004.
"I go there every day for lunch," said Erickson, who admits to hanging around after dinner for a bit of conversation and fellowship. "It turned out really nice. Today we ordered right off the menu. Angie's a very ambitious person, and everything is new in the kitchen. It's nice to have a place to go. I think I was the last one out today."
"It's hard to cook for one person," noted Angie about her customers. "If you can go somewhere and get something to eat, at least you're eating, and it's a huge social thing. I have a group that sometimes they are here by 11, and sometimes it's 1 by the time they leave."
The Recipe has also seen some traffic for just coffee and conversation -- Angie anticipates that will pick up once the weather warms up -- and there's another spurt of business once school lets out for the day.
Another asset to the community is The Recipe's party room, which can seat almost 50 people.
"We slid the bowling lanes together to do the floor," explained Angie about how they recycled one of the building's signature attributes. "It's been utilized by different organizations -- the Kiwanis and Lions clubs. We've had several birthday parties back there, a birthday club for the month. And we've had people from different towns coming over and using it for those purposes, different meetings, events. There is no other place unless you want to rent the community center, and when you do that you still have to hire a caterer. So it's been a good thing."
While Angie is the one who spends the most time at The Recipe, the business has become a family affair. The Horkeys have five children: Carrie, 24, Melody, 21, Levi, 20, Sophie, 14, and Talitha, 12.
"My husband is here on the weekends," Angie said. "During the week he works at MnSP at Brewster, in the maintenance department. So Saturday and Sunday he comes down and does what he can, which would usually be the waiter. He's a little afraid of the grill yet. Our kids have also been very supportive of it. The two older girls are part of the staff down here. Our son is in the Army, so he can't help, but the two younger ones are here before and after school and on the weekends when they can be. It's very much a family-run thing. My folks come down and help with the Meals on Wheels thing, getting that ready, so it's a full family deal."
Reopening Westbrook's café has certainly been an ambitious undertaking --"ambitious or crazy," said Angie -- but so far she has no regrets about pursuing her dream.
"If you enjoy what you are doing, it doesn't seem like a job or a chore," she said. "I do really enjoy what I'm doing. Maybe it's just because I'm so new at it."
The Recipe is located at 547 First Ave., Westbrook. Hours are 7 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.