MALTBY — The pleasant scent of cinnamon wafted from the kitchen, filling the air of the Maltby Cafe on Thursday as staff ushered orders to courteous customers and calls for takeout flooded the phone.
The controlled chaos ensued when a community, from near and far, feared losing its favorite country cafe.
Piling bills and a lull in business amid the pandemic had put the Maltby Cafe on the brink of an unceremonious shutdown, according to its owners.
After more than 30 years, owners Tana Baumler and Sandra Albright anticipated this month would be the restaurant’s last.
“It’s been heartbreaking — we never thought we’d see ourselves in this position,” Baumler said. “We went through the summer not great but OK, but this last close-down, that just took us under.”
At the small cafe in the basement of a 1930s gymnasium, where the speciality is cinnamon rolls and the staff are like a family, the idea of the end was devastating.
As a last hoorah to pay employees through the holidays, Baumler developed the “Miracle on Maltby Street,” a socially distanced, holiday-themed event that would hopefully fund a $10,000 medical insurance payment until the end of the year.
When word spread of the cafe’s troubles, the community stepped in. Takeout orders quadrupled overnight, and a GoFundMe fundraising page was created.
In the four days since, more than $85,000 has been raised from 1,200 donors. Donations big and small have come with heartfelt messages from customers who can’t imagine life without their local cafe.
“Tana wanted a miracle and this was the miracle,” Albright said.
At first, both owners objected to the fundraising campaign. Proud and stubborn, Baumler said she cried of embarrassment before realizing this was the act she’d prayed for.
“You work so hard and you still can’t make it, and I am not use to that,” Baumler said. “But it’s a lot bigger than me. It’s about the employees, it’s about the community and for the first time in my life I had to not give, but accept.”
The outpouring of support shocked restaurant staff, but customers didn’t seem surprised.
As she picked up her favorite egg scramble, Kelly Pierson said the coffee tastes better at Maltby Cafe. The fresh ingredients and made-to-order quality make the cafe her favorite spot for special occasions and for bringing out-of-town guests.
“They’re invested in the community and the community is invested in them,” Pierson said.
As he picked up lunch for him and his son, Richard Ferguson said he’s tried everything on the mammoth menu. The 20-year cafe customer said his whole neighborhood decided to support the business.
“It’s just always here, and there is not a lot here,” Ferguson said. “This is just something we don’t want to lose from our community. Plus, who doesn’t need a great breakfast every once in a while?”
The influx of orders and donations has washed away the wave of hopelessness that Baumler said consumed her thoughts just days before. Albright said it was like a bright light that gave them a reason to keep going.
Donations will go toward catching up on overdue bills and the sales uptick may allow for some employees to be rehired if demand remains.
The owners can’t guarantee the future of the Maltby Cafe, but there is renewed anticipation that the restaurant may survive the traditionally slow winter months.
“It’s Christmas time and I feel like it is one of those stories from a movie that you watch and it has a happy ending,” Baumler said. “All the stress, the nights laying awake, concern and prayers and all of a sudden it’s happening.”
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.
Ian Davis-Leonard reports on working class issues through Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. To support Ian’s work at The Daily Herald with a tax-deductible donation, go to www.heraldnet.com/support.