From the Deck: How I came back to Harold's
As I have said- lake living was fun! I fished at least 3 times a week in my own back yard. Camping and trout fishing were just hours away. I had really worked my way up the ladder at the Natural Resources District and Sadie was a full-time Realtor. By 2011 my son Clay was 5 years old! We visited Omaha 5 or 6 times a year and it was harder and harder for Clay and I to leave his fun cousins and my close family behind. Life was really, really busy in Grand Island as we tried to balance our jobs, free time and this fast happy kid.
I called my mom at the Koffee House every week. I would always ask how things were going there. Well, looking back on it, mom was STRESSED!! The Koffee House was still functioning, but after 50 plus years of opening and closing a restaurant, she and my Uncle Tom were really getting short-handed, the equipment was old and failing and they were just --- tired. Rumbles of my Uncle Tom retiring or selling the business or shortening hours started to grow. I felt a pull to get closer to the family and my brother's and sister's were having more babies- more cousins for Clay.
There was a change happening in our lives at Grand Island. One day I felt the nudge of the spirit to call Tom and just ask about the state of the Koffee House and his plans moving forward. When Tom picked up the phone he was very surprised to hear from me. Not knowing which direction this might go, I asked him about his plans for the diner after his 55 years of cooking and managing.
His first words were draped in shock. "I can't believe this.. How did you know to call? You are just not going to believe this" he said. I braced myself for his next words. "Matt, I have to tell you, your Aunt Carol and I just got back from a trip. We prayed by the side of the road just today that someone would come along, or that God would formulate a plan for my retirement at the Koffee House, and here you are on the phone, asking me about that very thing."
I believe we shared goosebumps at that moment. We shared our thoughts and feelings about the family business. Tom and I have always been pretty close. He was the uncle that fueled my fire for fishing and hunting at a young age.
I decided to plan a weekend in Omaha, opening and closing the restaurant with my mom and Tom just to see what it might entail. It was really an un-explainable feeling that I had, but I went with it, I tried it out - punching donuts, flipping eggs, folding omelets, cooking breakfast again after 20 years.
I think we were all confused by my presence back in the kitchen. Mom, Tom, my wife, my dad, my brothers and sisters, heck - I certainly could not legitimize leaving a good job to come back to Omaha and run the old family restaurant. Looking back on it, I was committed to not losing the Restaurant's tradition and delicious food. The idea that familiar, lifelong friends in Florence, or my family and their kids, might not ever flood in thru the doors of the cafe on a Sunday after church was inconceivable to me, just not right. The stress and strain that the "grill time" was putting on my mom was painful to my family and I. To exasperate the strain, the business was gaining no financial traction. I felt I could and had to do something. And I did. And here I am to tell the tale.
My first mission was to learn the recipes inside and out. To do so required extracting that knowledge from the busy brains of the entire Harold’s family. I interviewed my Uncle John, the oldest son for the history of the Koffee House. I had help from Aunt Beth and Aunt Judy with the pie and roll recipes. Aunt Susie helped me perfecting some of the recipes and gaining better knowledge of work flow in the kitchen. It was a tiring mental grind for 2-3 years. Throughout those years I was determined to keep my enthusiasm up using the food and the atmosphere to speak for itself. I started a Facebook page and began to tell our story and show off our enthusiasm which became what I call our prevailing and unique “Harold’s Vibe” in a neighborhood cafe. Now, thousands of pounds of hashbrowns, eggs, and Koffee later, I can say that the enthusiasm has spread throughout Omaha.
Tom did formally retire from the Koffee House. I did extract all of the recipes from his brain and from Nancy's notes and put them into a spreadsheet. Uncle Tom now works a few hours about 3 times a week, and still instructs me on the nuances of the soups,the gravies and the meatloaf. Nancy is able to enjoy her 13 grandkids much more and you will still see her there 3 or 4 times a week, managing, stirring, smiling, putting out fires and remaining solidly committed to customer service and quality food.
Grandpa's presence is alive with Tom and Nancy's humor, charm and good old stories. Our humor together, with our employees, our guests and the camaraderie of the restaurant in general is truly the most cherished "lever" that engages this machine, that we call Harold's Koffee House, aka Harold’s cafe, aka The K-house.