The humble but cheerful yellow building sits in the village of Victor, Ontario County. The roof sags a bit in the middle, and hand-painted signs advertise the café’s hours.
On busy days — and most are — customers wait on benches nestled on tiny weathered porches on either side of the front door, heeding the signs that advise them to watch their heads for the low, sloping metal overhang of the roof.
When the café is open — which is only at breakfast time — the expanse of gravel in front usually fills up, with some cars parked two deep. And lately, the lot has become even more congested, as the Chit Chat Café announced on Facebook that it is closing its doors after 21 years in operation.
“It will be sad,” said Hanna Nowack of Fairport, who was waiting outside with her friend, Irmeli Ratnik of Pittsford. “It’s unique and the food is excellent.”
She bemoaned that places like the Chit Chat are disappearing in favor of “generic and sterile” places like the Dunkin’ across the street. “You seen one, you’ve seen them all,” she said.
The Chit Chat charm
The Chit Chat Café has a cozy, country-themed dining room, with six wooden booths and a counter that seats five. Up a few stairs is another small dining room. The walls are cluttered with signs, all for sale, with homespun phrases like “home is where you hang your heart.”
People visit for the large muffins, the thick slices of French toast made with homemade cinnamon bread, the large frittatas and the eggs Benedict. There are specialty French toasts made from homemade lemon poppy seed bread and banana bread, as well as the almond-crusted French toast, created for a regular customer who had it while traveling and asked owner Luanne Hargrave to replicate it.
But regular customers say they also come for the feeling of the Chit Chat. Friendly waitresses take time to, well, chit-chat with their customers, and Hargrave frequently waves at familiar faces through the swinging doors of the kitchen as she cooks.
“In general, everyone knows everyone here,” said Michael Perrin of Victor, visiting with Ingrid Zimmermann at 11 a.m. on a Friday, when the wait time was 45 minutes. “You won’t find another place in Victor that will have a crowd like this on a Friday morning.”
A history of mothers and daughters
Hargrave was 36 and the mother of three daughters when she was downsized — for the second time. Having worked for a food service broker, she had observed the restaurant industry and wanted to start her own business. Her mother, Ruth Stryker, agreed to be her business partner.
They started the restaurant in May 1998 in a building that Stryker owned. The duo worked 15-hour days serving breakfast and lunch; eventually they decided to cut back to breakfast and “only” work 10-hour days.
The name came from one of Hargrave’s three daughters, who said, “We need a place where people can come and chat.” Her daughters, Amanda, Lizzy and Jessica, would all work in the café, and they still pitch in as needed.
“My girls and I were very close,” Hargrave said. “It was the four of us together. They kind of grew up here.”
Stryker would eventually suffer from dementia, and when she died in 2015, Hargrave considered closing the restaurant. “Then I got the mentality that she would want me to keep going,” she said.
But Hargrave is now 57 and had an incident with her heart last year. When her daughter asked her to be a caregiver for her first child, she decided it was time to shut the doors of the café, giving her staff plenty of notice to find other opportunities.
Customer celebration planned
Both the property and the business at 164 W. Main St. in Victor are up for sale. “It would be awesome if someone wanted to run it,” Hargrave said. She hopes to continue to be able to make and sell her cinnamon swirl bread in the future.
Since the Facebook posting, more and more customers have visiting to give well wishes.
“I’ve gotten to see a lot of people who haven’t been here for a long time,” Hargrave said.
The interruptions have made it difficult to cook, and they take an emotional toll. “I’m the professional crier,” she said with a laugh. “I’m the lady of emotion.”
The café’s last official day of operation will be Friday, Nov. 1. But on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 2, Hargrave will head to the Chit Chat, make a big batch of her famous muffins, put on pots of coffee and have a memory book at the ready. The celebration is open to the public.
“When we end, I want to go out with a way to say goodbye and thank you to everybody,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my customers. You can make everything you want perfect and if people don’t come to the door, it doesn’t matter.”
Until Nov. 1, the Chit Chat Café will be open from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
This story was originally published with Luanne Hargrave’s previous surname.