OGDEN — The owner of one of Historic 25th Street’s most recognizable businesses died late last week.
Karen Waters, longtime owner of Karen’s Cafe, died on Nov. 10 in Ogden. She was 76.
According to her obituary, Waters was born on Feb. 7, 1942 to Don Homer and Grace Nielson in Hawthorne, California. Was was preceded in death by her husband, Troy and her son, Matt Vanderhoff and daughter, Valerie Shumway. She is survived by a brother, Dee Homer, sisters Tonya Schnoor and Vickie King, her son Brett Vanderhoof and daughters Sabrina Kvavle and Kayla Vigil and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The obituary describes Waters a beloved by and devoted to her family, but to most residents of Weber County, she’s best known for her role in the highly regarded downtown restaurant.
Former Standard-Examiner reporter and longtime Ogden resident Charles Trentelman paid tribute to Waters with a post on his blog, The Retired Rambler.
“Karen Waters is — and should remain — a legend along Ogden’s 25th Street,” Trentelman said. “As much as anyone, she played a key role in revitalizing Two-Bit Street.”
The restaurant opened in the 1990s (near where the City Club is now) at a time when 25th Street was still desolate and blighted. Waters opened the cafe at the tail-end of a tremendous economic decline on 25th Street, which began in the 1950s and mirrored the decline in passenger and freight rail traffic that used to come to Union Station and flood the street with patrons from all over the world.
Karen’s Cafe, along with other establishments like Roosters, were key in bringing the street back to life.
“She opened her first cafe, a much smaller place in the 200 block, at a time when only the very brave opened any sort of business at all on Ogden’s Two-Bit Street,” Trentelman said in a 2016 Standard-Examiner letter to the editor.
The restaurant later moved down the street to the west, in a building occupied now by Jesse Jean’s Coffee Beans.
The cafe, which closed a few years ago, was famous for (among other things) meatloaf, pot roast and its special “crummy” chicken. Trentelman said the eatery was home for an eclectic crowd.
Longtime Ogden resident, activist and former city councilman Jesse Garcia said the crowd of regulars included elected officials, cops, journalists and more.
“Everyone was welcome in her restaurant,” Garcia said. “You had some people that were really well-off and people who were not so well-off. It wasn’t uncommon for her to give free meals to the homeless. It was a diner where you really saw people from all walks of life.”
Terry Schow, another longtime Ogdenite and former director of Utah’s Veterans Affairs, was also a regular customer.
“It had a real mom and pop feel to it,” Schow said. “It was just one of those places where they made you feel at home and that’s why people came back over and over again.”
Garcia said Waters was an enormous fan of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Trentelman said she regularly celebrated Presley’s birthday by serving up free fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which are said to be the King’s favorite and a regular staple of his diet.
“I hope Karen’s afterlife is filled with fun customers to talk to, lots of that amazing meatloaf (I’m guessing the recipe died with her) and, every now and then, some thoughts about Elvis, just to keep her warm,” Trentelman said in his tribute.
A memorial service will be held for Waters at 11 a.m. Nov. 19, at Leavitt’s Mortuary, 836 36th St., Ogden.