Fourth Street Cafe: Despite rumors of sale, everything’s business as usual
It is almost 6 o'clock on a Saturday morning and Bob Branham has just rolled out the last of his 180 buttermilk biscuits.
His wife, Connie, sets out 15 dozen eggs on a table, about half, she said of what will be served for breakfast.
Waiting outside in the dark is Daryl Oroke, the first customer of the day.
"For four years he's been there at 6 o'clock when we opened the door," Connie Branham said.
For Oroke and the other "regulars," the day wouldn't be complete without a start at Tonganoxie's Fourth Street Cafe.
Connie Branham talks about her customers as one would speak of old friends. There is the table of women who come in every morning at 6 a.m. Susie Wiles is one of them.
"Irma Smith got me started when I got out of beauty school," Wiles said. "We'd stop in here for toast and coffee every morning on our way to work."
Norma Hunter said breakfast is especially good early in the morning when the biscuits are fresh from the oven.
"The biscuits are the best in town," said Carol Don Carlos.
Nearby, Jerry Vick, Frank Sterba and Bob Arnold banter back and forth over breakfast. While Bob Branham tends to stay in the kitchen, Connie Branham comes out front once in a while to refill coffee cups.
She likes her customers, she says, and mentioned how much it meant to her to receive a card from them when she was ill. "I would get that card out and look at it over and over," she said.
Some of the "regulars" are older, Connie Branham said. "Some of them have died through the years," she said. "I just get so upset when I lose one of them."
For five years now, the Branhams have been a part of Fourth Street life. Six mornings a week they arrive at the cafe at 5:15 a.m. and stay until after the 2 p.m. closing.
It's work they enjoy, but work they're ready to get away from if and when they find a buyer. Up until last week, they thought they had a buyer, but it didn't work out, Connie Branham said.
"The restaurant does a lot of business," Bob Branham said. "If somebody buys it, keeps the food good and takes care of the customers, they can have a good business, too."
Connie Branham said the business has shown a profit every month, but added, "We haven't gotten rich, but we've been happy to settle for less just so we can work together."
Married for 23 years, the Branhams said that for them, working together works. In fact, Connie Branham said that in all the years of their marriage they had only spent one night apart.
Before opening this restaurant, the Branhams had operated three other restaurants in Missouri.
When they bought Fourth Street Cafe, the couple had been living in Overland Park where Bob Branham was selling cars and Connie Branham was working for a physician.
"We wanted to do something where we could work together," Connie Branham said. "We saw the ad in the paper, came out and looked at it and three weeks later we were here."
When they bought the restaurant, they planned to keep it for about three years and then sell.
As he fried strips of bacon and hash browns on the grill Saturday morning, Bob Branham said he's looking forward to selling the cafe. "Some people can get up at 4 in the morning and it doesn't bother them," he said. "But I've never gotten used to the early hours."
Meanwhile, Daryl Oroke, the first customer of the day, orders his favorite breakfast. "Here late it's been biscuits and gravy."
Fellow diner Marilyn Thompson laughed and said, "He orders that every day he doesn't even have to tell them."