WATERVLIET — Michelle Edmonds has worked at Sidetrack Cafe since 1988.
Thirty years later, she is the newest owner of her family’s restaurant and has received quite the response from her customers and the city of Watervliet.
To the surprise of many, the Sidetrack Cafe closed in August when Edmonds’ sister could no longer run the business. Several Watervliet residents contacted City Hall with worried messages about the restaurant that had been a staple of the community for year.
City Manager Mike Uskiewicz was among the many to receive letters from surprised customers.
When he heard the business at 315 N. Main St. was closing, Uskiewicz approached Edmonds with an idea to help her with the unexpected expenses.
Aside from a Downtown Development Authority grant that could help redo the restaurant’s facade, Edmonds discovered the restaurant needed a new roof and electrical work, in addition to replacing the carpet and adding a new layer of paint.
“There were some heating and cooling issues too,” Edmonds said. “Then Mike started talking to me about this Patronicity site.”
With Edmonds’ permission, the city set up a crowdfunding page through Patronicity.com and began accepting donations for the restaurant as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
The move means less stress on the Edmonds while they continue to bring back a crowd favorite up to par with what it once was.
In the family
Edmonds mother was a waitress at the Waffle House farther down the street when she decided to buy what was then known as D&D Grill.
It was there she changed the name of the business that was next to the train tracks.
“I think my mom always loved her customers,” Edmonds said. “She figured working for herself would be better than making somebody else money.”
The Sidetrack Cafe was established in March 1988 by Marianne and Lynn Parker. It has served as a gathering spot for the Watervliet community – even in the 1940’s when it was known as The Midget.
With its unique train logo design and the motto of “getting sidetracked,” the cafe’s appeal hasn’t changed since then.
Customers can still hear passing trains and can see all the train photos hanging on the wall – in addition to the clock that sends a toy train around its perimeter twice every hour. On the wall behind the front counters are rows of mugs, which customers bring in themselves to be refilled with coffee.
About 10 years ago, Edmonds’ parents sold the business to her sister – who would eventually close it in the summer of 2017.
“We had thought about buying it, but I was a bit apprehensive,” Edmonds said. “But when it closed I couldn’t see someone else running this business. So, I quickly figured things out and we ended up reaching a deal and I opened the doors on Sept. 1.”
When they reopened Sidetrack Cafe II, Edmonds said they had to turn people away because of the line that was forming out the door.
A community’s blessing
The crowdfunding campaign is being done through Patronicity.com and has raised more than $3,100 as of Thursday.
The funding campaign, which launched Monday, has until Dec. 8 to reach its $20,000 goal.
Combining the money donated through Patronicity.com, a tip jar at the cafe, checks mailed in to City Hall and the DDA facade grant, Uskiewicz said they’ve received about $10,000 so far.
Uskiewicz said the decision to partner with the business was a no brainer because its served as a conduit for the people and their community.
“When the place closed, it closed abruptly. When Michelle took it over, she found out an interior facelift was not enough. If we didn’t offer to help, we might have lost a community icon,” Uskiewicz said. “We can’t continue to lose our anchors, the cultural backbone that makes up our city.”
Uskiewicz said the city has never done something like this for a business, but said special circumstances call for special measures.
“I feel good that we’ll be able to make our goal, based on the loud concern that was given to me at its initial closing,” Uskiewicz said. “I knew this was something we had to take hold of and find a way to get involved. The community is a blessing and so is its Sidetrack.”
To donate, visit http://bit.ly/2yuwQT4. To send a check or cash, residents can mail them to the city of Watervliet at P.O. Box 86, Watervliet, MI 49098.
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