Just Like Ma & Pa
December 28, 2012
I sat down with Janet Devine, co-owner of Ma & Pa’s Kettle, for a chat about her business, her regulars, and the story behind how she became a restaurateur. On any given day, she is busy dishing up exactly what Ma & Pa would to a lunchtime mob. At noon, the restaurant can be standing-room only.
As I glanced up at the board, I could see that the free meal winner of the day was John R. (Congrats John.) It’s a testament to the kind of establishment I’m sitting in. It is a community space, according to Devine, as much as it is a restaurant.
The menu can best be classified as comfort food, with all the favorites in attendance, like: chicken fried steak, ham and beans, biscuits and gravy, and homemade soups a plenty…Are you hungry yet? I asked her about what lures her customers back again and again. Devine loves the tenderloin best and says it’s what most of her customers come looking for. They do have different specials every day, although Wednesday is always for tacos…or "wacos" as she calls them.
Devine’s favorite thing about Claycomo might just be its village classification. "It’s just a friendly little place and people know and take care of each other here," Devine said.
The biggest thing that people don’t know about Ma & Pa’s, Devine says, is the biggest problem any restaurant faces… "That we’re here!" Every day she meets a new customer and learns that they never knew about the restaurant, nestled away in the strip mall. Of course, she concedes that every day she also spends her time with seasoned regulars that have become like family.
There are perils to owning a business like this one. She’s had her share of over 40-hour work weeks. She’s up cooking the roast for her celebrated hot beef sandwich before most people have made their coffee. She and husband Dave have been the owners for 18 years. The building had been in place for 9 years prior, operating as Carolyn’s briefly and Ma & Pa’s for 2 years prior to Janet and Dave buying the place.
Devine told me the story of how it came to be theirs. "My husband asked me if I’d like to go on an adventure with him," Devine said. The adventure involved responding to a tiny, restaurant-for-sale ad in the paper. By the looks of the lunchtime crowd, you’d swear Ma & Pa’s had always been a money-maker. The first 5 years were rocky. "If someone had waved a check at me then, I might have jumped, but not now," she added. Of course, now her customers are her friends and her business is booming.
Her husband had promised her that she’d never have to cook again when he convinced her to leave her corporate job for the diner. "I cook every day," she said, but she said it with a smile.
Ma & Pa’s Kettle is open 7 days a week: Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. serving breakfast all day and lunch. It seats 54 snugly, but they do offer carry-out for the whole menu as well. They accept checks and credit cards, but cash is still fine, too. They are only closed for select holidays, including Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter, and Thanksgiving.