$4.25. That is what I made per hour at Moon City Cafe. But at the age of 19 I worked like I owned the place. It was the third cafe I worked at during my years at Evangel College, in Springfield, Missouri. When I think back to that time, I have a very visceral and tangeable memory-it encompasses all my senses. The food, the people, the sense of community and belonging. I remember the music. We worked with Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams and Tom Jones crooning in the background. The rectangular building was old and brick, with hard wood floors and vintage green booths. I loved every little thing about it.

My boss was an unassuming gregarious and kind man named Dennis. I cannot say enough about him, his wife, or the influence they’ve had on my life. Dennis was super relaxed about his cafe-or at least he seemed to be. But he taught me how to tackle recipes, and how to put flavors together. He was also hilarious and always had me cackling. The environment in a kitchen can be uptight, stressful, perfectionistic, and judgmental. Not at Moon City. We had a blast. Like belly-aching-laughing-my-butt-off-cracking-up fun.

And the food. I had Beet Borsht soup for the first time, and also for the first time-root vegetable soup, filled with sweet potatoes, chick peas, butter nut squash. I’ll never forget the day in August when he dragged two trash bags FULL of basil from his garden for us to process. I had never had or made pesto before. Life changing. Basil, olive oil, lemon, pine nuts, fresh Parmesan…I was in heaven. We made whole wheat bread every other day and instead of controlling that process, Dennis modeled it, and then handed it off. He understood that it takes practice and that the worst case scenario was a trip to the store to buy bread for that day…not the END of the world.

I think I can confidently say it was the beginning of my cafe obsession. Back then, WAY back in the 90’s…(that was for my kids), the idea of sitting at a cafe, reading, spending hours there sipping coffee, it was new. It stood in the face of everything FAST food. The food was home cooked and different everyday. The coffee was dark and rich. This was a place you almost always saw someone you knew, and that was a good thing. I loved the way it brought community together. It was the perfect setting for just being.

Like I said, I worked like I owned the place. I’d lay awake at night thinking of the things we’d need the next day, or stressing over the staff. There were several mornings I awoke before it was even light to run to Dillon’s grocery, to pick up this or that, milk, fresh produce for the following day. And I loved going into the cafe before the door was unlocked, lights stayed off, except for in the kitchen. I would put the food away, and get set up for the day. The first priority was getting the large carafe’s of coffee filled up, Colombian, Guatemalan, and Dark Roast. I counted it a pleasure to hear those beans grind, and to be the first to catch the freshly brewed aroma. And before the lights were on, or the door unlocked, to sip my first cup of coffee.