Weller to bid farewell

After a career serving his community, café owner to call it quits
By Nicholas Johnson | Jan 11, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Joe Weller keeps his customers’ cups full of coffee before the sun rises Jan. 10 at Weller’s Café in Mukilteo. Weller plans to close the café Jan. 15 after 16 years in business.

Like clockwork, Joe Weller has risen at 4 a.m. six days a week for the past 16 years to serve breakfast at Weller’s Café along the Mukilteo Speedway.

“My dad always told me that if you don’t open up consistently at 6 a.m., there’s no point in opening up at all,” said Weller, who plans to close the Mukilteo restaurant he and his wife, Pam, have operated together since Labor Day weekend in 2000.

The café’s last day of business is set for Sunday, Jan. 15.

“I’m sad to leave but happy to go,” said the 64-year-old Weller, who has spent more than three decades in the restaurant business. “Now it’s time to let my feet rest for a while.”

Weller said he’s worn out. Health problems, such as a broken hip, have kept Pam away since early last year, leaving Joe to run the place on his own, save for the help of his daughter Krystal on weekends.

“What’s really worn me out is Pam, or the lack of her around here,” he said. “I haven’t been working with my spouse like I used to for months now. It’s always been easy and fun for us to work together, even though we also go home to each other at the end of the day.”

Weller’s regulars have not only noticed Pam’s absence, they’ve noticed the toll it’s taken on him.

“He really has had his hands full,” said Todd Duskin of Mukilteo, who’s been coming in about once a week for the past 14 years. “The business was designed to run with the two of them, like a mom and pop kind of place.”

Duskin is not surprised to see the café come to the end of its run, but he said he’ll miss its social aspects.

“It was always a very social thing for me, and for a lot of other people, too,” Duskin said. “It has always been more than just a place to get breakfast. It has a real community feel. He’s got a lot of regulars and a lot of us have gotten to know each other there. I have people around town that I know from Weller’s Cafe who I otherwise wouldn’t have known and might never have called friends.”

For Walt Baldwin, 74, of Everett, who spent his career in the restaurant business, Weller is a restaurateur who knows how to take care of his customers, whether he’s keeping your coffee cup full or frying your eggs just the way you like them.

“The minute you walk in, you get a hello and you feel welcome,” Baldwin said. “He always keeps your coffee cup full, the food comes out fast and hot, and he always clears the table off the minute you walk out. That’s the kind of thing that brings me back. And he’s always had really good hash browns ¬– now, that’s how I judge a place.”

Many of the café’s regulars remember Weller’s dad, also named Joe, who managed the Elk’s Club in Everett for 25 years and later opened Weller’s Chalet in Arlington, which he ran for 35 years.

Weller admits he followed in his father’s footsteps. After flipping burgers in high school, he got a degree in hotel and restaurant management from ITT Peterson Business College. Eventually, his dad brought him in to manage Weller’s Chalet. That’s where he met Pam, who was working there as a waitress.

When Pam took a waitress job at Taylor’s Landing on the Mukilteo waterfront in the mid ‘80s, Joe followed.

“Taylor’s was the most popular place in the county,” said Weller, who recalls waking up early each day to manage food preparation in the restaurant’s commissary.

When Taylor’s closed in 1991, Joe and Pam opened Weller’s Milwaukee Station Café in Everett’s Port Gardner neighborhood. By the late ‘90s, city roadwork around the café discouraged customers from coming down his street.

“We were closed for almost a year and trying to keep going,” Weller said of the impact of ongoing road construction. “Then the city realized it had put in the wrong sewer lines and would need to tear it all up again, which could take another year.”

After trying to stay afloat by opening only on weekends, Weller decided to close up shop.

“I was tickled to find them up on the Speedway after their place on McDougal Street closed,” said Baldwin, who came to know Joe and Pam at their Everett café. “I am glad they stuck with it because the two of them together make great restaurateurs.”

When the Wellers opened their café on the Speedway, many of his old customers found him there.

“They knew I’d been doing this a long time,” he said. “If it’s consistent, if it’s the same all the time, they’ll come back. If not, they’re here today and gone tomorrow.”

While attentive service and the consistency of his food are key ingredients, Weller said the secret to a successful restaurant is caring about the people you serve and being a part of the community.

“If you want the customers to come back, you have to really care about them,” he said. “And I really care about my people.”

Steve Lacomb of Mukilteo said he first met Weller when he was working at Taylor’s Landing. He said it’s the way Weller treats people that has made his cafés special.

“It’s always been Joe – his personality, his appreciation for people,” Lacomb said. “Everybody who goes in there, whether they know him or not, leaves feeling like his friend. He really goes out of his way to make you feel welcome.”

Since working at Taylor’s Landing, Weller has volunteered each year to cook salmon during the Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival and the Mukilteo Boys & Girls Club Luau and Silent Auction.

“I’ll work all day up here and then during the [Mukilteo Lighthouse] Festival I’ll go down there right after work all three days,” he said. “I really enjoy it; I love being a part of the community in that way.”

Lacomb said whether Weller is working at the café or volunteering in the community, he always seems to be working despite himself.

“He doesn’t ever complain,” Lacomb said. “He just does it.”

Weller said he and Pam haven’t taken a vacation in the last 16 years.

“I never felt that I could take a week off without the business suffering because of it,” he said.

Now that his decades-long career in the restaurant business is coming to a close, Weller will have more time to tend to his yard or comb through the classifieds for part-time jobs.

Otherwise, he’s really not sure what he’ll do with himself after turning out the lights and locking up for last time.

“I do know one thing,” he said. “I don’t want to get up at 4 o’clock every morning to go to work anymore.”

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