On The Menu
06/25/2014 12:00AM ● Published by Jon Lewis
Photos: Betsy Erickson
Klassique Kafe Serves Up Marvelous Meals With Love
There’s a key ingredient that has kept the Klassique Kafe humming along for 30 years and it’s hardly a proprietary secret. It’s such a compelling part of the restaurant that its regular customers will think nothing of putting napkins aside, clearing tables and diving into a sink full of dirty dishes.
It seasons every plate of eggs, every sandwich and every bowl of soup. It’s the spice that brings alive every steak and stuffed potato; the little extra something that adds a smile to every stack of pancakes.
It’s unadulterated love, and the sisters who own the Athens Avenue restaurant, Kathie Steers and Millie Ellis, have been cooking with it since they were 3-year-olds.
A profound appreciation of cooking is in their DNA, passed along by their great-grandmother, grandmother and mother, and it was nurtured by their late husbands. “We’ve always loved to cook and our husbands always wanted to see us in a restaurant,” says Ellis, 74.
Their first restaurant venture lasted a year and their second restaurant, The Dinner Pail on Twin View Boulevard, lasted two years. They opened the Klassique Kafe on Oct. 1, 1986—taking over a space that had housed eight other restaurants—and now chuckle while recalling the naysayers who told them it would never work out.
As anybody who’s watched the sometimes frantic pace of restaurant turnover in Redding can imagine, Klassique Kafe’s long run has not always been easy, but the sisters have been able to benefit from their experience and smooth out the occasional bump.
“We learned the ropes,” Ellis says of their earlier ventures. “We had on-the-job training with no trainer.” It’s not like they had a lot of choice, her sister adds. The restaurant life “gets in your bones; there’s just something about it,” says Steers, 72.
Good intentions are one thing, but it’s good food that generally keeps restaurants open, and that’s certainly the case at the Klassique. The sisters swear by a “buy local” business model and abhor the idea of loading up on the precooked, frozen meals featured at some national chain restaurants.
“We would rather put out a meal that costs us money than to have someone not be satisfied,” Steers says. And fresh food, prepared to order, takes a little time. “If you eat here, you’re going to wait. We’re not heating up leftovers,” she adds.
Plenty of folks don’t mind the wait. The sisters say that veteran outdoor writer John Higley is usually the first one through the door each morning and North State restaurateur Joe Wong makes a regular habit of stopping by on Wednesdays for the pork roast stuffed potato special.
A lot of others come in for breakfast and lunch because the café has such a welcome feel to it that it’s become a second home, and they often act accordingly. “If we get backed up, our customers are not above bussing tables and washing dishes,” Ellis says.
“After you’ve been here three times, you’re family,” Steers adds.
It’s not just locals who sing the restaurant’s praises. Out-of-town customers are routinely struck by the comfortable, welcome vibe and home-cooked meals. This online Yelp review is typical: “The food was awesome & tasted so home cooked with love. The French toast was the best! They are also very involved with the vets in the community and volunteer to cook for them. I wish there were more people like Millie and her sister in this world; it would be such a better place.”
Veterans, active members of the armed services and law enforcement officers are especially welcome at the Klassique Kafe, where the walls are covered with photographs, tributes and memorabilia from World War II clear up to Afghanistan.
“We wanted to say to these guys and gals that somebody cares for you; this is a home for you,” Ellis says. Her sister says the décor and tributes are a way of saying thanks for those who don a uniform “and put their lives on the line so I can open my big mouth. We like to treat our veterans with the high esteem and respect they deserve.”
The sisters put plenty of walk behind their talk; they are both veritable bulldogs when it comes to fundraisers for veterans’ causes, including the Northern California Veterans Museum and Heritage Center and the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo.
To date, they estimate they have raised more than $65,000 for military-related causes.
The Klassique Kafe
2427 Athens Ave., Redding