Stopping in at the Chatterbox CaféPublished 6:00am Saturday, November 28, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Iron skillets hang on the wall behind the lunch counter, which is decorated with gifts that have been brought in to Linda Seyfried by her customers. She insists she “never thought” she’d go into business for herself after the recession’s impact on the automobile industry had its effect on her job.
But in the end, that’s exactly what happened and as it turns out it’s what opened the door to a new business in Niles that’s serving up some savory eats against a timeless backdrop.
Stepping through the doors of the Four Flags Antique Mall is like taking a step back into moments long forgotten.
Each step, every turn is a discovery of some long lost treasure, old jars, pieces of decor or toys one might remember from childhood and vintage pieces of art and furniture.
But just a few steps in and it’s evident that something other than nostalgia hangs in the air.
It’s the scent of home cooking coming from the Chatterbox Cafe.
Linda Seyfried opened up the cafe at the back of the Four Flags Antique Mall back in May and she has already built up a loyal following of customers who saddle up to her counter at the rear of the store come lunchtime.
“People really seem to be interested,” Seyfried said. “It’s a comfort place. Everything has a story here and we try to go along with it.”
So the Chatterbox has its own story.
Seyfried held a longstanding career in automobile sales and had never before thought of opening up her own lunch counter.
“I was just straggling through the mall one day,” she said, when the idea for a new venture came to her.
She opened the Chatterbox with hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. but her crowd picked up and she’s since extended those hours to 5 p.m.
The menu, which changes almost daily, is made up of home-cooked recipes, cooked up by Seyfried’s son; fresh-baked items are whipped up by her daughter.
“It’s kind of a family thing really,” she said. “We really enjoy it.”
Seyfried said a lot of her customers come in from downtown area businesses, but she hopes to see new faces and she’s armed with home-cooked meals and low prices.
The menu has included items like homemade chicken salad sandwiches, grilled cheese with pesto and provolone or bacon and tomato – even old-fashioned Fluffernutter sandwiches, sloppy joes and Nathan’s hot dogs.
Still, Seyfried said the homemade soups remain her bestseller, with customers even ordering it up to go, and she said she’s gone so far as to meet customers at the mall’s back entrance if they’re in a hurry or under the weather.
The mix of food and familiarity is what Seyfried hopes will bring in new faces and create return customers.
“I think people would really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s nostalgia, it’s old fashioned, it’s memories.”
Those who make their way to the Chatterbox Cafe have been doing so on word of mouth.
Still, Seyfried said aside from her regular customers coming in from downtown Niles, during the summer months many of her customers were lakeshore and Chicago area in town for the season.
“Ninety percent of my people here are from out of town,” she said, including the Fort Wayne and Indianapolis areas. “We’ve got a lot of dealers from Chicago,” she added. “A lot of dealers from Texas.”
Whether coming in seasonally or regularly, the cafe offers the chance to eat and shop.
Seyfried said her customers sometimes take a look at what the mall has to offer while they wait for their food.
As for the future of the Chatterbox, she said in addition to a growing customer base, she’d like to see the opportunity to offer more soups to go and possibly get a little bigger, even see the chance to hire some help.
“My customers that come, they’re the same customers that come every day,” she said, adding that the antique mall serves as a very “relaxing” setting for those enjoying their lunch hour or taking a break from shopping.