Visit The Corner Cafe on Goshen Avenue and Akers Street just once and you’d know: Byron Taylor was crazy about cars.
Vintage Porsches, Fords and Chevys line the diner’s walls, along with old license plates that customers would bring in. Above the diner’s counter protrudes the front end of a ’47 pickup truck, complete with functioning headlights. As you enter the restaurant, Taylor’s old racing jacket hangs from a display case for all to see.
On Saturday, the 78-year-old restauranter and former racer finished his last lap, succumbing to an inoperable facial tumor that left him unable to eat or drink.
For the long-standing diners’ legions of loyal customers, Taylor’s absence will be deeply felt.
“I walk in and still look for him behind the counter,” said Richard Allender, a long-time cafe customer and Taylor’s childhood friend. “He was a fixture here. Even customers who maybe didn’t know his name would recognize and ask about him.”
Byron was born in 1941 and grew up in Dinuba, where he started work at a dairy delivery company while fixing up and racing cars at the apex of California’s car culture.
Eventually, Byron stopped making deliveries and began receiving them, when he decided to start a restaurant of his own.
“I was happy when he started his own restaurant,” Allender said. “It was good for him to get out of the truck and start his own diner. I’m going to miss seeing him sit at the end of the bar.”
The first Corner Cafe opened 19 years ago on Mineral King Avenue. It quickly distinguished itself with its generous portions, warm service and racing-themed decor that wowed children and amused adults in equal measure.
The diner was so successful it relocated to its current location at Goshen and Akers, just behind SaveMart, three years ago — bringing all of its staff with it.
Carrie Vandellen is one of those employees. She has worked for Byron at the cafe for nine years.
“Byron made me feel like family from day one — they’ve always treated us right,” she said. “They would do anything for us and vice-versa.”
Vandellen recalled her first day on the job.
“At the end of my first day, Byron called me over and said, ‘You did a great job, but one thing: You need to work on your ‘fives,'” she said. “To this day, I think of him every time I write a five.”
The move doubled the restaurant’s square-footage from 1,500 to 3,000, which Byron’s daughter-in-law, Sally Windh, says they have put to good use.
“On the weekends, we have to put chairs outside for customers to wait, because we’re so busy,” she said. “Parking often spills over into SaveMart’s lot.”
The diner was packed on Wednesday as dozens of customers trickled into the restaurant to pay their respects to the man who sat at the end of the bar and greeted patrons seven-days-a-week for the past nineteen years.
“We have 40 flowerpots in the back (that customers have brought in). Everyone’s been really good to my mom, the gifts are piling up at home,” Windh said.
Jim and Betty Peterson say they visit the cafe at least five times a week.
“We started coming to The Corner Cafe when it was still off (Highway) 198. We needed a place to go after Mearle’s closed,” Jim said. “The food and service won us over. Now, we meet friends here almost every morning — it’s just the spot.”
“We will miss Byron dearly, but we’re not going anywhere,” he added. “This place is family.”
Windh and Byron’s second wife, Sharon, who ran the restaurant with Byron, say they plan to keep the cafe going strong.
“(Byron) built a good place. We’re gonna be around for a while,” Sharon said. “I can’t think of a better way to honor his memory.”
The Cafe closed to the public on Thursday, as family and close friends gathered to remember Taylor and pay their respects at the restaurant he built.
“(Byron) didn’t want a traditional service,” Sharon said. “We thought honoring his memory at the restaurant he dedicated most of his life to would be fitting.”
Corner Cafe reopens with normal business hours, 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., on Friday. The cafe is open every day at 5219 W. Goshen Ave.
Joshua Yeager covers water, agriculture, parks and housing for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @VTD_Joshy. Get alerts and keep up on all things Tulare County for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.
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