The place to ‘B’

During a lull in business, Charlotte Classen of Grand Junction leans against a counter in the kitchen of her De Beque restaurant, Mama B’s Cafe.

Charlotte Classen, right, adds a ladle of homemade gravy to a freshly baked biscuit as she serves breakfasts for Roy Brubacher, left, and Charlie Orr of Parachute at her De Beque restaurant, Mama B’s.

About the usual morning time, 7:15, 7:30-ish, Guy Herwick pushed open the glass front door of Mama B’s Cafe in De Beque.

“Hey, Guy!” Charlotte Classen greeted him from her spot behind the front counter, automatically reaching for a crusty loaf of French bread and cutting off a sandwich-size portion.

Daisy Printy turned in her chair, a plate of French toast on the small table in front of her, and smiled at Guy.

“What did you do?” she asked. “You got all shaved up and spiffied up.”

Guy rubbed a thoughtful hand over his short, trim beard. “It got too hot,” he said.

Daisy and Charlotte laughed, and Guy moved to the side counter to pluck a white ceramic mug from a shelf and pour himself a cup of coffee. Sitting at the two-person table next to Daisy’s, he pushed the chair back a little and crossed his legs, a casual finger looped through the coffee cup handle.

“So, you’re back in town?” he asked Daisy.

“Yep, but I’m leaving again tomorrow to go to a funeral in Loveland,” she replied. “There were four of us come out from Iowa in ‘61. We lost the second one last week. Tuesday, actually.”

Guy shook his head in sympathy, and from her spot over the large, silver grill, where she kept an ear cocked to the conversation, Charlotte did, too. And she kept cooking: sliced the bread and buttered it, then laid it on the grill. Cracked an egg onto a dot of oil and broke the yolk with a spatula. Dropped a circle of sausage onto the grill next to the egg.

Sausage on the bread, cheese on the sausage, egg on top, onto a plate, which Charlotte placed lightly on the table in front of Guy.

“There you go,” she said, and Guy thanked her before digging in.

The first two breakfasts of the day served, Charlotte leaned a hip against the counter. The day had begun, Mama B’s open for food and conversation.

No need to rush here, though lunchtime can get busy and there are just six tables. But people are thoughtful, Charlotte said, and know to move along if they see the need. Otherwise: “You know what Sheree told me yesterday?” Charlotte asked Guy and Daisy. “There’s a bear and two cubs up at Bass Lake.”

The cafe opened a year ago August, in a spot that used to be a Mexican restaurant just north of the Kum & Go on the frontage road in De Beque. Sheila Blackwell conceived it, but several months in realized that running a cafe and doing concessions at Canyon View Park in Grand Junction was too much. So, she called her sister, Charlotte, in Oregon.

“She asked me to come down and run it,” Charlotte recalled. “And I put it off and put it off — my dad’s in a nursing home in Oregon and my kids are there.”

But finally, in February she was convinced, though hesitant about the small town. The food wasn’t an issue — she’d worked in restaurants and catering most of her life — but a cafe in De Beque…

“It’s like my calling,” she said on a recent Wednesday morning. She took over the cafe in April, merging almost seamlessly into the small town.

It’s never been easy to run a restaurant there. Many have tried and failed. The going concern seems to be Subway inside the Kum & Go, “but you can’t get French toast at Subway,” Daisy said, stirring honey with a table knife into a plastic cup of peanut butter and spreading it onto her breakfast.

So, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, open for breakfast and lunch, Charlotte cooks huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos, pulled pork sandwiches and tacos. It’s just her — no help, no dishwashers or waitresses, no bookkeepers. And it doesn’t even bother her that she’s not actually Mama B — that would be Sheila — because people joke that she’s “Sister C” and everybody knows her.

Guy comes in for breakfast every morning, and as for Snap Morris, “purt’ near every day,” he said.

“Looks like Snap got a new door for his truck,” Charlotte observed as he pulled into a spot on the dusty gravel in front of the cafe. Before he came through the door, Charlotte pulled a biscuit from the warmer and sliced it in half. Biscuits and gravy, every morning, topped by Snap with a heroic amount of pepper.

He sat at the table on Daisy’s other side and Charlotte placed breakfast in front of him.

Every Saturday, Charlotte plans the coming week’s menu. Some things remain in place — there are always cheeseburgers, chicken strips, and homemade fries available for lunch, pancakes are always an option for breakfast, fish ‘n chips on Friday — but she said she likes to try new things, too. There’s always a daily lunch special: “A few weeks ago, I really wanted turkey, so I cooked up a full turkey dinner with all the fixin’s,” she said. “I was picking the bones clean, I served up so many plates of turkey.”

Around 10 a.m., the oil field guys usually call in an order for sandwiches. The first lunch customers trickle in after 11.

In between times, when it’s just her in the small cafe, Charlotte washes dishes and mops, checks the food inventory and pulls apart cooked pork loins with two forks in a big silver pan. She cooked them in Crock-Pots the night before, and she’ll mix the pork with barbeque sauce. Put a dinner salad on the side, and that’s a good lunch special for $6.95.

And then, with a few minutes wedged in here and there, she goes outside to water the plants in six big, concrete containers, her community garden. Several ranchers, Mama B’s customers, brought over tractors to settle them in place. Another customer brought over the dirt, and another donated the marigold, tomato and raspberry seedlings.

“That’s just this town,” Charlotte said, offering the thirsty blooms a spray of cool water.

But those are the in-between times. Breakfast and lunch are the priorities.

And Virgil Rickstrew — age 97, moved to De Beque in 1926 — needed some breakfast.

“Mornin’, Virgil!” Charlotte greeted when he came in with Dave Swenson. “You want some milk?”

Charlotte leaned his cane against the counter, out of his way, before pouring a glass of vitamin D for him. Then, two plates of biscuits and gravy. Guy, finishing his coffee, turned to Virgil and Dave.

“What’s Dale and Marie up to, Virg?”

A while later, Roy Brubacher and Charlie Orr, Charlotte’s Parachute fishermen, wandered in. They actually were headed to St. Mary’s Hospital instead of fishing, but they still needed breakfast.

“We were worried about you!” Roy told Charlotte by way of greeting. She’d been in Oregon the previous week to take care of some sudden family business, and the cafe had been closed.

“But everybody has my cell number, so I was getting calls, ‘Are you OK?’,” she said.

She was OK, and Roy and Charlie were glad to see it.

“Your tomato plants look good,” Charlie said. “They look real good.”

Charlotte smiled and chatted about the garden, turning to put the bacon on the grill.


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