By Nancy Tannler
8600 SE Stark St.
Mon. – Fri. 7-5
If you haven’t made the time to visit Monticello and/or eaten at Monti’s Cafe, you’ve missed a good thing. Kelli Vinther had the idea to open the antique mall in 1999 and began negotiations to obtain the building. She was the new kid on the block but she had a vision of how promoting antiques could be done differently. After years of hard work, she found enough dealers with her aesthetics and ideas about presentation, sale worthy items and fair pricing to make the mall take shape.
Now seventeen years later, Monticello features eighty-four vendors, with special events held throughout the year. “My hobby for hunting and gathering antiques became my career so I don’t have much time for that now,” Kelli said. That doesn’t slow this entrepreneur’s effervescent enthusiasm for promoting antiques and collectibles though. She gets her thrill through her vendors who have become like family after so many years.
The restaurant came into being twelve years ago when Kelli decided to lease the space to independent coffeeshop businesses. They never quite met her expectation of a compliment to the mall. “I knew the idea was right but it wasn’t the food and drink I wanted to provide our customers.” Five years ago her cousin Jodie Simpson went from being the bookkeeper to taking on the management of Monti’s Cafe.
“I had no training in the food industry other than my Taco Bell experience in my teens,” Jodie said. That, and cooking for her sons. Some people have a natural knack for things and Jodie surprised even herself with her abilities in the kitchen. Kelli thought it was the influence of their grandma who Jodie was very close to as a child. She owned a restaurant over on McLaughlin Blvd., and lived in this neighborhood while they were growing up. Montavilla is one of Jodie’s familiar childhood remembrances.
Monti’s went from being a regular coffeeshop to a cafe serving homemade breakfasts and lunches. “It’s been challenging to learn how to do this, but I jumped in and did it. My main learning curve came from the feedback we got from our customers,” Jodie said.
If they commented the biscotti was too dry or there was quiche left over she would adjust the recipes accordingly. A recent kitchen expansion that includes a new freezer and refrigerator, made it possible for everything to be made in-house and provides space for the kitchen staff to work without bumping into one another. This came at just the right time as Monti’s is becoming a staple of the neighborhood as well as to their antique customers.
According to Kelli, they’ve chosen the menu to appeal to the morning and afternoon crowd. They offer the gamut of coffee drinks, chai, tea, hot chocolate, steamers, smoothies plus everything can be made with alternative milks. Every morning there’s a fresh meat and veggie quiche available, breakfast sandwich, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, yogurt parfait, bagels and cream cheese and biscuits and gravy.
The pastry chef begins baking at 6 am and, by the time Monti’s opens at 7 am, the brand new counter is filled with tantalizing muffins, biscotti, breads, cakes, cupcakes, scones (both sweet and savory) and a variety of other choices baked fresh daily. Lunch includes Jodie’s now famous homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and quesadillas. To top off the perfect lunch or just for fun they serve mimosas to sip while you shop.
Kelli said, “The biscuits and gravy are to die for and I usually have a small sample everyday.” Another one of her favorites is the hearty chili and cornbread. Jodie doesn’t really have a favorite since it’s her job to taste test everything being served to make sure it’s all delicious.
“Brenna and Jill do the baking, but it takes the “Monti’s crew” as a team, to keep up with all of the food prep and keep the cafe running smoothly,” Jodie said. Even with all hands on deck, Jodie moves like a hummingbird from task to task making sure everything is first rate.
Monticello and Monti’s Cafe is a wonderful place to while away a few hours doing some of the things we love best, eating and shopping.