Pretend that you’ve never been to Woodlake, CA. Never even heard of it.
But you want to fly somewhere and have a fantastic breakfast.
You go online. Search for airport cafes. And VOILÁ! There it is!
Frank Holbert from Corona, CA is just like you. He had never heard of Woodlake, CA. Decided to come.
That was in 2008 before it became “THE” pilot’s place to have breakfast and lunch.
I wish I could fly. I don’t.
On Sunday my husband and I drove to the Runway Cafe just south of Woodlake at the Airport right after church. We did not beat the crowd.
It did not matter. Charlotte caught my eye over the crowd milling around the cashier’s stand, “Just two today, Marsha? Gottcha!”
We headed outside and sat at one of the empty picnic tables. Normally we sit out there, but the temperature on Sunday headed towards 108, and HE wanted to sit inside. While we waited we chatted with another couple and pet their large golden retriever.
“I’ve got a Beggin’ Strip for Annie,” Charlotte told them. Annie sniffed around the wood floor for other treats while she waited and we talked.
We did not know the couple before we arrived. They lived in Visalia and came often out to the Runway on the weekends. Like us, they enjoyed the excitement of watching planes and helicopters land.
Runway Cafe is Woodlake City property. In 2014 when Butch Reed and Charlotte Scott decided to look into leasing it, they had six competitors.
But they got it, and the locals were thrilled. Let the good food roll!
One customer said, “It’s a shame! Such good food we pig out!”
Another laughed, “The food was great! Now, we’ve got to find a couch!”
So who comes here, you ask?
Charlotte said, “We get about 15 pilots on Fridays and Saturdays, 10-25 on Sundays, and a total of about 10 during the rest of the week.”
That’s it? Just pilots?
Butch chimes in, “I’m in the hot rod and bike business. I build bikes from scratch. Bikers know me. We get lots of bikers and hot rod guys. For example, the Five of Diamonds Motor Cycle Club of Tulare. They just had a Run and raised $15,000-$18,000. We like to help out.”
Charlotte’s eyes teared as she looked at me.
She said, “I just want everyone in Woodlake to know how much we appreciate them. We are just so grateful”
A large party at the two tables behind us got up to leave. Charlotte stopped our interview briefly to give each person a hug and thank them for coming in.
Butch had a larger vision of “locals” than just Woodlake.
“People drive in from Visalia, Hanford, Porterville, Bakersfield, Reedley – all over. There’s a picture over there in the corner of a couple from Germany. They’ve been here several times.”
I don’t think the German couple is local even if they’ve been here more than once!
Pictures line the walls. Most are of guests who come by plane. One morning when my husband and I came for breakfast Charlotte wanted her picture taken with the pilot and crew. Volunteering to hold the camera, I rushed out with the crew to take the pictures. Charlotte was so busy, she never made it to the picture.
The pilot offered to fly me to Visalia with them. Breakfast was waiting for me. Should I stay or should I go?
I hadn’t said anything to my husband about going. I would miss my great breakfast.
I wished them well and ran back to eat my delicious breakfast.
Butch is so grateful to have the Cafe and the opportunity to serve coffee that he drives to Runway Café at 4:30 AM and works until 7:00 AM. Then he goes back to his Transmission Shop in Visalia and works there. Retirement is not in his vocabulary. Workaholic is.
“I went into partnership with Charlotte because she is the hardest working woman I know. And she’s honest.”
She’s the friendliest person I know. Everyone else follows her example.
Runway Cafe started 40 years ago as Woodlake Outpost Cafe under the ownership of Velma Dearmore. Dora, who owns Dora’s restaurant in Woodlake, had it for a while then Sherry Foreman from the Exeter Whistle Shop ran it after that. It sat empty for a few months. Finally, Butch and Charlotte started running it December 20, 2014. Yelp has given them a 5-star rating, in case you are wondering.
Charlotte said, “We are a team. Owners in other places I’ve worked asked the workers to do things they wouldn’t do. We don’t do that here. I’ve cleaned the grease trap, bathrooms, mopped, swept,, washed dishes, cooked – not as good as Brandon Edmonds, Steve Ferris and Ricardo Bonilla, but I do it. And yes, they are all local.”
Kelly Mittel, one of the waitresses who used to work with Charlotte and her daughter, Charnae Edmonds, left there and came to work at the Runway Cafe. She never regretted her decision.
Kelly said, “You can be yourself here. No uniform. It’s like family here.”
Runway Café supports the community in many ways. Of course, they donate to many causes. Since there is so much foot traffic, it is a favorite place to hang banners and flyers for community activities. They sell the book I wrote, Images of America Woodlake, the proceeds of which go to the Woodlake High School Foundation.
But mostly, they serve good food in huge portions for about $9.00 on average.
“It makes me happy to know that I’ve done something for Woodlake. I’ve helped it to become better known.” Butch said.
In addition to the regular German couple, people from as far away as New Zealand, and Australia have found their way to Runway Cafe for their delicious specials: fish and chips on Fridays, taco salad on Wednesday, and chile verde on Sundays. Other customer favorites include chicken fried steak, sausage patties, and omelets. I like their peach cobbler. Go figure!
If you haven’t tried the Runway Cafe yet. Fly in, bike in, drive or walk from town and try it out 6:30-2:00 seven days a week. You can’t miss! And you will make some new friends.
Do you have a favorite diner at a small airport?
Please share if you love Runway Cafe.