“It’s kind of an old fashioned restaurant.” Another chapter for Whistle Stop Café in Deep River

DEEP RIVER – Hedy Watrous hung up her well-worn red chef’s coat, adorned with “Whistle Stop Café”, for the last time on Sunday, January 23 after 30 years of feeding hungry but grateful customers.

Yet this iconic restaurant, in the center of Deep River, will continue Watrous’ legacy when the restaurateur’s daughter, Maddie Kayser, takes over.

“She’s going to be so good at it,” Watrous said. “She’s going to be so nice and nice and I just need to move on.”

Kayser has closed the restaurant until March 18 to put his own spin on the Whistle Stop Café.

Windows will be covered and a lot of work will be done behind closed doors, “mostly deep cleaning,” Kayser said.

When people return to sample the cuisine of this 20-year-old restaurateur, they will be welcomed to the same cozy restaurant that has been welcoming customers for years.

Music will always fill the air with songs from Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Elton John, Chicago and Rolling Stones and more. “Oldies, but groovy oldies,” Kayser said.

Every customer who enters the 900 square foot restaurant is greeted with a warm greeting and as you leave you can hear “Thank you guys”.

The Whistle Stop Café is a mainstay of the Deep River and part of Watrous’ heritage. His maternal grandparents opened the restaurant, in the same location, shortly after Prohibition in the 1930s.

The walls recall deep family ties. There are black and white photographs of the cafe of yesteryear, portraits of Watrous’ maternal grandparents who ran the restaurant together, individual photos of his maternal grandfather and mother, and photos of the restaurant in its previous incarnations.

Watrous was proud to share that her grandfather “had liquor number six [license] statewide,” which meant he was the sixth owner to get the license when Prohibition ended.

For a time, the establishment was run by people outside the Watrous family, until 30 years ago when Watrous returned home from Key West, Florida.

Watrous’ immediate family has been linked to the restaurant ever since.

“All my children were raised here. She was in a baby swing in a doorway,” Watrous said of Maddie, pointing to the kitchen door.

“She loves it and she wants to do it,” she added. “She’s really good at it.”

Even Watrous’ two other children, Alex, 28, and Norma, 26, have tried their hand at owning the restaurant.

Phil Miller, who previously served as State Representative and first Essex manager, has been a regular customer since Watrous took over ownership.

As the Ivoryton resident sat at the counter eating a cinnamon French toast, the Eight Mile Meadow cinnamon bun split and dipped in tomato, mushrooms and spinach, he talked about his love for the small restaurant.

“It’s just whole foods, good combinations,” he said. “It’s kind of an old fashioned restaurant.”

“I like the people who work here, they are always very nice and friendly,” he added while chatting with Watrous while she was working at the grill.

Watrous, 57, has been considering retirement since 2020.

On his last day, customers stopped by to wish him good luck and sample a piece of his cooking.

“She is so wonderful to me and a wonderful friend and I love her with all my heart,” Maureen Ward said.

“She makes the best food on the planet,” the Deep River resident added, placing a bouquet of fresh flowers and a helium balloon emblazoned with “Happy Retirement” on the counter.

“I told her if she was bored she could come and cook for me every day,” she laughed.

Watrous plans to devote more time to his other Deep River business, Eastern Arts Center for Health and Wellness.

“I’m thinking of just making people private, instead of having it open to everyone,” Watrous said.

Before that, she will travel.

“Just drive, just go south or west,” she said. “I’ll visit people along the way.”

“It’s great to do,” she added. “I’m so ready.”

Kayser reflects on his decision to take over the family business.

“I’ve worked here forever, so I thought the torch would be handed over to me,” she said, taking a brief break to serve the morning crowd.

“My mum gave it to me and I said, ‘Of course I would take it back, I love the place,’” she added. “I looked at it and said, ‘How can you expect me to live in this town if you’re going to sell it? I can’t live in this town if you want to sell it.’”

“I couldn’t walk past this place every day without thinking about it,” she added.

After serving as the manager for a few years, Kayser feels well prepared to take over the property.

She plans to make some changes to the menu. Considering they’re open until 1:30 p.m. “I’m going to cut down on the lunch section.”

However, it promises to keep the most popular items. This includes Eggs Benedict de Cannes, a bacon English muffin, red onions, fresh baby spinach, and herb garlic cheese.

Other favorites include the farmers omelet, bacon, fresh baby spinach, mushrooms, tomato and Swiss cheese; Hague omelette, smoked salmon, red onion, smoked Gouda, garnished with capers; Madeline Eggs, Whistle Stop Café Vanilla Nutmeg French Toast Mix and Berry Stuffed French Toast, two pieces of French Toast stuffed with Whistle Stop Café sweet cream cheese filling and topped with berries caramelized.

There are also vegetarian choices which include Vegetarian Eggs Benedict, grilled eggplant replaces the English muffin, topped with broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes; English muffin with honey ham, crispy fried Brie and tomato slices; Vegetarian Lovers omelet, seasonal vegetables with choice of cheese.

Kayser will continue Watrous’ commitment to serving healthy food. This includes produce grown in Watrous’ vegetable garden.

“I have a healing garden and I compost everything,” Watrous said. “I go to the ocean and collect seaweed for my garden and oyster shells. Everything is naturally fertilized.

A varied assortment of healing teas, promoted as “seasonal assortment of medicinal teas”, is also on the menu.

Some of the choices include Prunella, for high blood pressure, viral infections, thyroid, removing internal heat, improving eyesight, stagnation and inflammation, tumor and chest, throat and lungs, and Watermelon Frost, for severe sore throat, fever, rash, burns, cuts and scrapes, circulation and anxiety and stress.

Kayser spoke about his evolution as a chef.

“I grew up with my mom, so I was always in the kitchen with her,” she said.

“I’m more of a home baker, but when I work here it’s not really a recipe-type place,” she added.

Watrous said she had never written a recipe.

“I don’t have time,” she said. “I don’t like to measure anything or write it down, everything is different every time I do it.”

Kayser has hired a chef to help out on the weekends and admits, “I had to write recipes for some of the things we make, like the corned beef hash. »

It is important for this new restaurateur to continue her longstanding role as a waitress on weekends.

“It’s something I’ve done forever,” she said. “I can’t really stop because my regulars… when I told them (the change in ownership), they said, ‘that’s so awesome, congratulations.’ The second thing was, ‘You’re still a waitress on the weekends, aren’t you?’

Additionally, Kayser will continue her mother’s commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle.

“All of our boxes are compostable,” Watrous said. ” Nothing is lost. Everything is reused, reused.

Customers flock to the Whistle Stop Café from all over the state and beyond, including Clinton, Old Lyme, Middletown, Cromwell, Colchester, Madison, and Branford, as well as New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

Taylor Shaffer and Jeff Boutwell have been frequenting the Whistle Stop Café for about a year. They make the 30 minute journey from Colchester most weekends to enjoy the home cooked meals.

“It’s just a little dinner-type experience,” Boutwell said.

“Small crowds,” chimed Shaffer.

The interior can accommodate 21 people. In fine weather, an outdoor patio, behind the restaurant, offers seating for 52 people.

Shaffer said a myriad of reasons keep them coming back, including “Good food, decent price, small business.”

She and Boutwell said their favorite was the Cannes Benny (Eggs Benedict), although Boutwell enjoyed a breakfast Burrito, bacon, sausage or ham, scrambled eggs, green peppers, fire-roasted red peppers, red onions and cheese cheddar served with house fries, salsa and sour cream.

As Kayser and Watrous wrapped up the weekend, Kayser said she was looking forward to March, “for my regulars to come back.”

“A lot of my regulars, they’ve seen me grow,” she added. “So I have a lot of regulars who, I know them, they know me and I know everything about them. They walk in and I say, ‘Hey, how’s the kids, how’s the family.’ »

She wants everyone who walks into the restaurant to feel comfortable, like they’re walking into a friend’s house.

“I hope it’s like you come into my kitchen in the morning and I cook you some food,” she said. “That’s always been the feeling – we’ve been striving for a more intimate feeling here.”

“Thank you guys, I’ll see you in March,” Kayser said as Shaffer and Boutwell left the restaurant.

Whistle Stop Café, 108 Main St., Deep River, 860-526-3122; Facebook Whistle Stop Cafe

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