Whether it’s the smiling faces of the regulars who meet for coffee or the delight shown by first-time visitors enjoying the antics of Buck, the singing and talking deer in the lobby, there are plenty of reasons why people keep coming back to the Egg-Cetera Cafe in Waconia, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in January.
Of course, it could also be the food. Eggs benedict, the Egg-Cetera Omelette, corn beef hash, biscuits and gravy, French toast … they’re all signature items on the restaurant’s expansive breakfast / lunch menu.
The ultimate reason, though, might just be the love and care displayed by Brian Vargo and Cheryl Arent-Vargo, the husband and wife team who own the cafe and have dedicated their careers to making it a success.
“It’s a big accomplishment, running it for 10 years,” said Brian, who cooks and operates the back of the house while Cheryl takes care of the front of the house. “It’s a very unpredictable business but it always works itself out. We want to give a huge thank you to the community for its support these past 10 years.”
The couple met 20 years ago while both were employed at Fairview South Hospital. Cheryl, who graduated with a degree in business and nutrition, was the manager of the nutrition department at the hospital, where Brian was a cook. The couple married in 1998 and eventually operated the Dock Cinema in Excelsior, a three-screen movie theater that was owned by Cheryl’s parents. Brian also worked as an electrician during this time.
After Cheryl’s parents sold the theater in November 2003, Brian and Cheryl decided they would enter the restaurant business. In the early 1980s, the Prairie House was built in Waconia and it later became the Waconia Grill. Brian and Cheryl purchased the Waconia Grill in January 2004 and the Egg-Cetera Cafe was born.
Since its inception, the cafe’s focus has been breakfast and lunch. While breakfast items are the staples, burgers and other lunch items are available and anything on the menu can be ordered at any time.
“Breakfast is the most important part of the day,” Brian said. “I want people to go away happy and satisfied.”
On two occasions, Brian and Cheryl expanded the menu for dinner service but it never really took off so breakfast and lunch remain the focus. As a result, the cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week, every day of the year except for Christmas. Brian and Cheryl run the restaurant alone Sunday through Friday. In general, they take most Saturdays off, leaving the restaurant to be operated by their trusted staff. It’s a hectic pace, one they’ve done more or less from the beginning, but Brian and Cheryl wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“Some days are challenging but we have so much fun with our customers, it’s great,” said Cheryl, whose only extended time off came last year while she was recuperating from ankle surgery. Her mother, Carol, stepped in for her, at least physically in the dining room, and didn’t miss a beat.
“We have a lot of regular customers and they’ve become like our family,” Cheryl continued. “We do want to thank our customers. We have a very loyal base of customers. When the going gets tough, they’re there for us.”
In addition to serving their regulars, Brian and Cheryl enjoy hosting newcomers as well. Thanks to referrals from places like Ridgeview Medical Center, there’s always a stream of new customers stopping by.
“The satisfaction of people enjoying the food and hearing that they want to come back” is one of the things that pleases Brian most about running the cafe. He and Cheryl pride themselves on only offering fresh, made from scratch items that are cooked to order. Nothing at the Egg-Cetera Cafe is pre-made.
It’s this commitment to quality that has helped the Egg-Cetera Cafe receive the “Best Breakfast” Award in the Sun Newspapers’ Readers Choice contest for the past three years running.
In terms of challenges, Brian and Cheryl said dealing with rising food, utility and other costs have probably been the toughest thing they’ve faced over the past decade. The low employee overhead is one reason the cafe has been successful, even when facing tough times like the economic downturn that occurred in recent years.
Brian and Cheryl are looking to continue a recent string of improvements at the cafe. Two years ago, they painted the exterior of the building. They completely renovated the bathrooms last December. In 2014, they hope to renovate the dining room area, such as replacing its somewhat dated wallpaper.
When they’re not at the restaurant, the couple, who live on a farm near Watertown, enjoy animals and show their horses whenever they can. They also enjoy boating, fishing and other outdoor activities.
But as always, the cafe remains their baby. The Egg-Cetera Cafe is available for large parties, meetings, some catering, even outside of regular business hours. To learn more, stop by the restaurant, which is located at 241 E. Frontage Road just off of Highway 5 in Waconia, contact (952) 442-5441, or visit the cafe on Facebook.
“The main thing is we still love it and are still going to do it,” Brian said.
“We love this community,” Cheryl added. “Waconia is a great place to do business.”
Contact Todd Moen at [email protected]