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05/25/2022 08:30 AM

Maddie Kayser: Taking Over at the Whistle Stop

After an admittedly young lifetime in a restaurant, Maddie Kayser was ready, able, and willing when her mom Hedy Watrous decided to hand over the keys to Deep River’s famed Whistle Stop Café. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Ask Maddie Kayser what she has learned since taking over the Whistle Stop Café in Deep River last January from her mother Hedy Watrous; it’s not cooking, it’s not restaurant management.

“I have learned how to be my own handyman,” she says.

When the dishwasher broke and Maddie found out it would cost $600 to fix, she printed out instructions, read them twice and fixed the machine. She has replaced a side gutter hit by a truck and two sink faucets; she has redone plumbing and fixed a ladder going up to the attic

“I just go to YouTube and I print out the manuals,” she explains. “There’s always something.”

She made very few changes to the classic Whistle Stop menu. She no longer serves avocados. They were not only expensive for a case, but their ripening time was always a problem.

“They whisper to you at 5 in the morning but by 8 o’clock they are gone,” she says.

These days Maddie says all she does is eat, drink, and breathe restaurant.

She admits to waking up during the night wondering if the compressor, vital for the coolers, is all right and whether she has enough English muffins.

“You really need English muffins,” she says.

Every Monday she goes to the restaurant supply depot to purchase items for the week. Not only have prices gone up, but even more difficult to deal with are seemingly random shortages, like the recent cream cheese crisis.

“I actually saw two men nearly get in a fist fight over the last brick of cream cheese,” she says.

The Whistle Stop mixes in its own ingredients to create a signature cream cheese. The cheese is very popular, but there is no point in asking Maddie what is in it. The recipe is a secret, just as the recipe for the Whistle Stop’s home fry sauce.

Maddie’s maternal grandparents started the restaurant in the 1930s, though it was sold and owned by others when the family moved to Florida. Watrous bought the restaurant back and ran it for some 30 years. She is not quite gone from the premises. She still comes in on Mondays.

Watrous had planned to sell The Whistle Stop if Maddie did not want to take it over.

Maddie, in fact, always thought someday she would run the restaurant.

“I was on my mom’s hip in the store. I grew up here. It’s in my blood,” she says.

Still, the changing of the guard happened a bit sooner than Maddie anticipated, even though she has been managing the restaurant for the past four years. She is only 20, a 2020 graduate of Valley Regional High School.

“That was the pandemic year,” she points out.

Patrons sometimes comment on her age.

“They can tell I am under 30, they think maybe 25, but nobody thinks 20; they are surprised,” she says.

On a recent morning, as Maddie talked with a reporter at one of The Whistle Stop’s outside tables, Kate Montgomery, a patron, came by with her dog, a pug named Josie.

“It’s amazing that Maddie is only 20. Josie is her number-one dog fan. She loves Maddie,” Montgomery said, adding, “Maddie gives out dog treats.”

Maddie was drinking one of the café’s specialty drinks, a mixture of lime seltzer with cranberry and blackberry juice. She points out the Whistle Stop is BYOB, and does set ups for drinks like Sunday brunch mimosas.

When it comes to food, Maddie says among her own Whistle Stop favorites are the Cannes omelet with bacon, red onions, garlic herb cheese, and spinach, and Neptune eggs benedict with spiced crab mix, fire roasted red peppers, spinach, and two poached eggs.

Now that Maddie is the owner, she has done something she was reluctant to do before: She has gotten tattoos people can see.

“I didn’t get visible tattoos until I knew what I was going to be doing. Now I am my own boss so I can,” she says.

Her visible tattoos include one of the Whistle Stop’s logo and another of a cat’s paw. Maddie has two cats. She has some six additional tattoos covered up; at least one is a food-themed design, eggs in a frying pan on her left hip.

In addition of her cats, Maddie also has an aquarium containing an albino lavender corn snake that she purchased online. The snake is two feet long but Maddie says it will grow to some six feet.

The aquarium, now with a firm lid, once was home for a hamster that Maddie thinks may have fallen victim to the cats.

“I can’t prove anything but I know the cats and the hamster didn’t mix,” she says. “I needed a lower-maintenance pet.”

During the week, Maddy cooks but on weekends she waits tables. It is a chance for to greet regulars—”My social side,” she says.

And she admits that is all the social she has time for.

“My social life is on the back burner,” she says.

For the first year she wants all her concentration to be on getting the restaurant running smoothly.

Greeting patrons is easy in the small restaurant, usually described as 900 square feet. That, according to Maddie, is an exaggeration.

“It’s really closer to 875,” she says.

When the small space is full, Maddie says she is happy to direct disappointed would-be diners to other restaurants.

“I love to support local businesses,” she says. “At the end of the day it is about community giving back to community.”