A new option to please your pallet has popped up in Gays Mills.
The Watercrest Café opened in mid-September in the back of the Kickapoo Exchange Natural Foods Co-op with manager K O’Brien leading the charge.
“I was catering a meal and the coordinator of the co-op Denise said ‘come here, I want to talk to you!’ and two months later we had a café going!” said O’Brien said with a chuckle. The rest, as they say, was history.
The café opened in the former Brewster Coffeehouse.
“The Brewsters planted the seed, and after they left everyone said ‘Oh my God, we need that’,” O’Brien said.
Although, fresh, healthy, local, and seasonable are all words that can be used to describe the fair at the Watercrest Café, one of the biggest driving philosophies of it is to not waste food.
“We throw so much away, and there are hungry people all over the world,” O’Brien noted. “So, our job is to gather as much as we can, and use it up.”
Sourcing its produce from Driftless Organics and other local producers allows O’Brien to save the produce from the compost piles, by using it directly or freezing and saving it for soups and other dishes. The use of produce in the Café is also lending a hand to the co-op to help prevent produce from landing in the compost bucket.
“At a small co-op like this it’s sometimes hard to get all of the fresh produce sold in time” O’Brien explained. “So, I’m in there grabbing stuff before it goes bad, and turning it into something delicious, which will save the co-op money in the long run.”
The Café plans to serve and construct its menu seasonally, or as O’Brien put it “we want to eat what’s there.”
This will be reflected in its small menu that will change frequently, but will offer some version of a vegetarian and meat Panini sandwiches, soups, salads and baked goods—which, in this reporter’s opinion, are quite delicious.
“As long as you feed them well, at a decent price you’ll get people to come for it,” said O’Brien. “We’re just graced with a great area with abundant quality food and you just have to let the food do its own talking and treat it with respect.”
The Watercrest also is offering something extra special for those who enjoy a little java. The café features cold press coffee, which is also made in-house.
“It’s a really big trend in Japan and Korea and we’re in here, in downtown Gays Mills, on the forefront of the craze!” O’Brien joked.
The coffee is soaked in cold water in a French press for 12-24 hours, creating a different chemical reaction than with hot water, resulting in smoother, less acidic brew with more caffeine content.
“It will give you more caffeine, with out the jitters. I don’t normally care for coffee, but I like this,” O’Brien said.
Not only will the new café offer delicious food and drinks, but also it hopes to contribute to the livelihood of downtown Gays Mills in a positive way. It’s an impact it already seems to be having. Many individuals stopped in for lunch on a recent sunny Friday, when the interview was conducted.
As folks departed, O’Brien called from behind the counter, “Thanks for coming in and finding us!” to which one patron responded joyously, “We’re glad we did, it was well worth it!”
O’Brien seems quite in her element in the little kitchen area of the Café, chatting with customers and laughing and listening to music as she admires all the beautiful produce she has displayed, waiting to be used.
“It’s so fun to be here (in Gays Mills), I got pulled away to Viroqua and for five years and I felt like I didn’t leave, and now its really gratifying to be back,” O’Brien explained happily.
The Café’s official grand opening isn’t until March, but that doesn’t stop O’Brien and her crew from cranking out delicious meals and drinks
“We plan to start doing second Saturday dinners to correlate with the Second Saturday Square Dances,” O’Brien said. “We have lots of different ideas to play around with and see what works before we have our grand opening in the spring.”
The Watercrest Café will be open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Café is located in the backroom of the Kickapoo Exchange Co-op.
During hours that the Co-op isn’t open you may access the Café through the side door or backdoor (which will also be open during operating hours of the Co-op as well).