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Rose’s Coffee Shop: Flavorful and Robust

The Midwest is not often looked upon as being as aggressive, fashionable, or as chic as New York City. For years, the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan was noted for hosting the “Round Table,” which included literary and theatrical notables such as Dorothy Parker. Last week, I attended the funeral of Rose Elizabeth (Wentz) Hoffert who owned and operated Rugby’s well-known yellow stucco Coffee Shop on Second Street. I cannot help but reflect on her own style of the “round table.”

Her snug and quaint Coffee Shop, with room enough to rest a hat and a few good friends, was for many years host to Rugby’s “Round Table of Businessmen.” Each day this select group of businessmen would arrive for morning coffee at 9:30 a.m., return back at noon for lunch, and perhaps another visit for afternoon coffee. Each time, Rose and her team would cater to these gents. The table would be set with placemats, waters, Tabasco sauce and other accoutrements to pamper their desires. Now you first must realize that Rose was perfectly capable of cooking, but often selected to be a reluctant cook. She preferred to be the hostess and in the middle of Coffee Shop chatter. Her devoted ear to Rugby news from the gents at the “Round Table” was simply a forerunner of today’s popular Facebook. The wisecracks and wit from the Rugby notables never managed to elevate to a Pinterest post, but conversation was certainly served up with each piece of pie and coffee. Rose knew the marketing of their news flashes was as good as the gold reserves at Fort Knox.

Rose herself was fun to be around. She was relaxing, refreshing and certainly interesting. Two minutes into her hospitality and mentally your shoes were off. After all, this was the perfect way to watch the sitcom which was about to play out. Some of these scenes were nothing shy of hilarious. For example: Rose had a big heart when it came to cooks, and she was willing to give anyone with a sincere interest a try. She had hired a cook from California who was amazing, and his presented plates were an all-around delight. He, however, had a few “legal issues.” The day came when a deputy strolled into the coffee shop to arrest him. However, he was met by the lively spirit of Rose who quickly informed the deputy “You are not taking him from my premises during noon hour rush. No, you will come back at 1 o’clock and arrest him.” That is exactly what happened – the deputy came back! This was the beauty of Rose – she treasured her Coffee Shop and was at home here like the 100-year-old cottonwoods of her childhood home of Fillmore. She knew that without this cook, her noon hour would have been a flop.

Jan and I enjoyed many a good meal at her coffee shop, and we looked forward each time to some of our favorite reruns. Our favorites included Wes Spillum wearing his medium blue one-piece coveralls and ordering a topless hamburger, Neil and Dwight Liming dashing in for a cup of coffee and then taking the cups next door because someone needed a haircut – only after the friendly reminder from the pound on the wall that they had a customer next door! We had the delight of taking a couple of my photography classmates from Boston here for lunch. Upon exiting after lunch, they exclaimed, “What a cool place!”

Yes, The Coffee Shop was a cool place and landmark in downtown Rugby. This place was a treasure. The menu was memorized by many that Monday-Wednesday was open for chance, Thursday was pan-fried chicken with onions or turkey and all the trimmings. Friday reeled in salmon loaf, peas and boiled potatoes. Other longstanding traditions included a host of delicious homemade pies with flaky crusts and tasty fillings, often made by Alice Jorgenson and other fine bakers, tomato soup with milk and soda, and who can forget Betty Thiel’s buttermilk pancakes or her ginger cookies? Country students also dined here when they did not have time to zip home for a meal between sports and swing choir practice. They knew things were homemade here.

Often the Coffee Shop was a family affair. Rose’s daughter, Karen Christensen, worked there. The fresh garden vegetables that were made into oil coleslaw, creamy cucumber salad and tomato slices came from Karen’s garden. From time to time, Rose’s sisters, Marlys Hinchey and Gladys Rust, also gave her a helping hand. Gladys was an energetic waitress and knew well the push and pull of a seasoned server. Marlys, who was a marvelous cook, made terrific stuffed peppers, all while wearing a lovely shade of tangerine lipstick. Rose’s granddaughters Shelly Wilmot, Kate Nelson and Karla Deplazes also learned from Rose how to set a table – remember after 4 p.m. we use placemats and coasters! They also had the delight in seeing their grandmother being the intact hostess by keeping her fingernails polished – often coordinating them with her blouse color, donning earrings and tucked in the bookshelf behind the round booth was a touch of soft perfume and a few shades of lipstick.

My first experience in truly getting to know Rose came when our Lions Club did a variety show. I was roving about town as Scoop Newsome, the reporter looking for Elvis Presley who had reportedly been seen in Rugby. When asked if Elvis had been in her shop, she motioned to the back door with a deadpan smile. Her appearance in this video brought down the house each evening! Rose and her Coffee Shop buddies made each performance a sellout as they watched Rose on the screen.

Many of us will recall the upholstered gold booths, her Coca-Cola sign listing a Denver sandwich for 85 cents, and a sense of community that dwelled within the Coffee Shop walls. There will also be a few who can recall when ketchup was substituted for French dressing – another Rose original. Thank you, Rose, for serving a cherished slice of pure Americana that is still missed greatly in downtown Rugby.