Aggie's saleyard cafe
- Mardi Ford
- The Observer
It's 5 a.m. on a Thursday. Sale day. Agnes Scott gets out of bed and heads to her kitchen to prepare filling for the pie crusts she made the day before.
"I make real good pastry," she says. It doesn't sound like bragging when Aggie says it, though. Just a statement of fact.
Aggie Â— everybody calls her Aggie Â— has run the cafe at the local saleyard for three years now. Filling her customers with hot coffee, great breakfast, homebaked pies and cookies, homemade potato salad and soup as well as the ever-popular cheeseburgers. Sometimes Aggie will throw a special into the mix highlighting her homemade chili or stew, meat loaf or french dip sandwiches.
Aggie loves to cook and loves people. That unbeatable combination of good food and good company has made the cafe at the Intermountain Livestock saleyard a popular spot on Thursdays.
"Some folks come out just to eat. I heard one man say we served the best cheeseburgers in the county," Aggie says with an infectious smile.
"Her food's the best this restaurant's ever had, in my opinion," says auctioneer Larry Howard. He's been a customer off and on for about 15 years.
At 73, Aggie looks at least a decade younger and has energy that a woman 53 would covet. For her birthday last March, she bought herself a sporty, sexy little black convertible. That action speaks volumes about the fun-loving, lively personality that radiates from her diminutive frame.
Aggie grew up in a big family on the Tsiatsos ranch in Starkey. When asked if what is said about Greek families is true Â— noisy, nosy and lots of good food Â— Aggie answers with a question of her own.
"Have you seen that movie?" she asks, referring to Â‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.' "That's exactly how it is Â— except with more people." She laughs.
Aggie is an interesting combination of outgoing and soft-spoken, ladylike yet down to earth. It's a combination that explains why a woman would retire after 20 years in the Enterprise District Attorney's office, then turn right around and embrace running the cafe at a livestock saleyard.
In fact, it may have been this unique combination that makes Aggie one of a kind that prompted an old neighbor to tell her about the cafe needing a new manager. Aggie had confided in her friend she was "kinda bored with retirement in La Grande, but didn't want to work full time."
"I'd never managed a cafe, but she thought I was perfect for the job," Aggie says. "I wouldn't have known what to do at first if Danette (Snyder, from The Hut in Union) hadn't helped me out," she says.
In three years, the cafe has become a family affair. Aggie's cousin Nikki Welter worked the grill until she and her husband opened the Greek restaurant in La Grande. Nikki's leaving came about the same time Aggie's husband, Don, retired from state law enforcement. He was immediately pressed into service at the grill.
Both Violet Thomsen, Aggie's niece, and Jeanette Tsiatsos, Aggie's cousin, work in the cafe every Thursday. Aggie's granddaughter, Charisse Josi, is a college student and works as classes allow. During the busiest season and for special sale days, other family members like Aggie's daughter, Janet Delatori, pitch in as needed.
"It's a family affair," says Jeanette, with a smile as wide as Aggie's.
Aggie says her family teases her a lot about not going near the till or making the coffee, but that doesn't seem to matter. Besides cooking, Aggie's
best talents seem to lie in the personal touches she gives her customers.
If life is like a box of chocolates, then Aggie's cafe is like the candy she keeps on the counter.
"I know who likes the mints and who likes the Tootsie Rolls. You learn what each one likes," she says. "And I just love each and every one of them," she says emphatically of the dozens of ranchers, cattle buyers, auctioneers, inspectors, saleyard employees and other folk who walk through the door and grab a stool.
Aggie knows who will walk through that door first thing in the morning for coffee and who wants that last free refill for the road. The whole crew knows who likes the banana cream pie, and Don makes sure they always save the last piece for vet Terry McCoy.
And just like the homemade pie, Aggie knows that most days her homemade soup will be gone before the sale is over. One customer took a particular liking to the soup and popped in more than once to say, "Save me a cup of that soup to take home." So they did.
When the first day came that he didn't ask Â— and they didn't save any Â— Aggie says he was so disappointed she felt just awful.
"Now, we save him a cup whether he asks or not. It's always waiting for him if he wants it," she says.
For another customer, his favorite is a particular cookie. So, when Aggie makes that kind, she always saves a few in a zip lock bag for him to take home.
"I think our food just tastes so good because it's homemade," she says.
That's probably true enough. But the secret ingredient is that intangible and delightful something which comes from the service. There's always something special at Aggie's Saleyard Cafe that's not on the menu Â— a little slice of home.
At some point, the Queen of the Saleyard may want to retire again, but for now, Aggie just looks forward to the slow season when the sales move to every other week. Her big Greek family has lots of plans for the summer Â— vacations, graduations, reunions, baseball games.
Although she has no plans to retire again, Aggie says she doesn't run the cafe because she has to. She runs the cafe because she loves it. Asked when she thinks she'll retire, she simply says, "When it's not fun anymore."