Recent windstorm blows Ogden cafe owner into a new life

Jan 8 2012 - 8:29am

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Jeanie Ortiz, owner of Choo-Choo’s cafe in the Ogden FrontRunner parking lot, has had to call it quits after a recent windstorm caused damage that wasn’t covered by insurance. The newly married woman is considering her options, including going back to school. Meanwhile, the owner of Rooster’s and Union Grill is considering taking over the restaurant/information center. (CHARLES TRENTELMAN/Standard-Examiner)
Jeanie Ortiz, owner of Choo-Choo’s cafe in the Ogden FrontRunner parking lot, has had to call it quits after a recent windstorm caused damage that wasn’t covered by insurance. The newly married woman is considering her options, including going back to school. Meanwhile, the owner of Rooster’s and Union Grill is considering taking over the restaurant/information center. (CHARLES TRENTELMAN/Standard-Examiner)

Jeanie Ortiz probably had to give up Choo-Choo's cafe anyway.

Business at the converted railroad dining car in Ogden's FrontRunner station was marginal. The economy sucks. She just got married. She recently had a grandchild die.

And then came the wind that just about blew Ogden away last month.

"That darn storm wiped me out," Jeanie said as we sat at one of the tiny tables bathed in sunlight streaming through windows that offer a gorgeous view of the city's skyline and the mountains beyond.

Her place went without power for three days. All the food rotted. "The freezer was so bad, I had to throw it out," Jeanie said.

Insurance didn't cover the loss. It was the final coup.

But this isn't a sad story. Businesses come and go all the time. Jeanie is one of those "life opens another door" sort of people. She's got education to finish, new callings to ponder, a new husband to enjoy life with.

And, I hasten to add, the restaurant will not go away. Pete Buttschardt, owner of Rooster's and Union Grill, is making extremely positive noises about taking it over.

Choo-Choo's ought to be a prime spot. It's right in the middle of FrontRunner's always full parking lot, and it's convenient for a quick cup of coffee. Jeanie says a sandwich can be ready and out the door in 67 seconds flat.

When the station opened, Jeanie was working in a nearby shop, "and I kept seeing people get off (FrontRunner) and nowhere to go," she said. She figured a restaurant would be just the ticket, "so, not knowing procedures, I just walked into the city council meeting."

She was told about agendas but still ended up meeting with then-Chief Administrative Officer John Patterson and then-Mayor Matthew Godfrey.

She worked out a deal so Ogden would own the railroad car, which sits on land owned by Utah Transit Authority, and she would own the business and run it. In addition to offering food, Choo-Choo's was to be an information center. The city even installed a TV to show video information.

"This is a cool story. We have a couple from Minnesota -- they come to Ogden two times a year for business, and they come only here for lunch," Jeanie said.

The cafe has become part of the social life of the train station.

The city keeps tourist information there. Schoolchildren coming home on FrontRunner wait for their parents there.

Mostly, Jeanie's sorry to stop doing her bit to make downtown Ogden a better place. She has never been robbed, never had any trouble.

"I'm only 5-foot-5, but you know what?" she said. "You treat people with kindness, you get kindness back."

Although there was that one time someone grabbed the tip jar and ran.

"And the girl behind the counter left a till full of cash to run after him and save her tips," Jeanie said, laughing. Customers helped run the guy down.

Jeanie's last day was Friday. What's next?

Richard Brookins, the city facilities manager, said he's in active talks with Buttschardt to take over the cafe, "and the city does intend to keep it open in the interim."

It's a valuable asset, both as a place to eat and as an information center.

Jeanie is unsure, but has many possibilities. She just got married, so she's got that to pursue. She's 17 credits shy of a master's degree in business, so maybe she'll finish that.

Or not. All she knows is, life pushed her out of one job, she gets to pick a new one.

"It's kind of bittersweet, but I'm ready to move on."

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can call him at 801-625-4232 or email him at ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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