The new girl in town
By Robin Michals

Kristina Meredith (left) and Janine Washle take in a delivery of food for K’s Cafe. Washle bought the restaurant in November of 2019. Meredith and her husband, Jason, both work in the kitchen and live upstairs.

Janine Washle was driving down West Main Street in Clarkson in August 2019 when she noticed a For Sale sign on K’s Cafe. By November, the chef, baker and beekeeper, who does recipe columns in Kentucky Monthly magazine and on WDRB-TV, was its owner.

New to the restaurant business, she was soon faced with the pandemic. She had to close completely for four weeks in April 2020 and then tried delivery. It was a disaster. But she was determined not to fail.

She tightened the menu and went to a skeleton crew. Two years later, the staff is up to 13 and the restaurant is full on Wednesdays and Fridays for the all-you-can-eat catfish dinner.
Now the threat to the business is inflation and the unpredictability of food costs. A box of chicken that was $53 in 2021 went as high as $143 before falling back to $73. The bacon used for the restaurant’s signature fried green tomato BLT went up five times to almost $200 for 15 pounds before falling to about double of what it was in 2021.

Janine will have to raise prices. This will be unpopular, as have so many of the changes she has tried to make. When she bought coffee with a darker roast, she got a message on Facebook that read, “That coffee you have is like drinking motor oil.” One woman told her directly: “Don’t change the coffee. We have had this coffee for decades.”

“I got educated by the customers, many whom have been coming here for over 20 years," says Janine, who often feels like the new girl in town. "They want to go somewhere familiar.”
Many of the staff also have deep roots in the restaurant.

"I cried when Kay sold the place," says Toni Hardin, a waitress there for 18 years, said of former owner Kay Gibson. "I was worried about the new owner, but it has worked out with Janine better than ever."

Now, Toni's daughter, Bobbi Legawiec, and her granddaughter, Alana Legawiec, both work at K's. Theirs is not the only family with three generations at the restaurant. Following his grandmother and mother, Andrew Dennis, 38, a cook, first worked at the restaurant when he was 14.

Kay used to say, “I don’t own this restaurant. Clarkson does.” Janine agrees.

Bobbi Legaweic serves a breakfast of gravy and biscuits with bacon to Greg Thornton, a regular customer. At breakfast, people almost always order their usual.

Janine (left) and Toni Hardin consult over the dessert menu as Janine breaks up biscuits for her special bread pudding.

Kristin (left) often brings her granddaughter Addison Simone Higdon down for a visit. After 15 years as a waitress, Lisa Ray (right) cross-trains in the kitchen so she can cover for a cook if necessary.

Alana Legaweic (left) often works the same shift with her grandmother, Toni, (back) and her mother Bobbi.

A supporter of the Democratic candidate for Congress, Hank Linderman, campaigns in the restaurant. She and Arzie Shain, who has been eating at K’s five times a week for about 15 years, discover that they are neighbors.

Marilyn Ratliff, 87, who lives two blocks from K’s and comes in almost daily, takes home a drink and bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. Bobbi chats with her.

Cook Samantha Welch (left) chats with her daughter, Shianna Bratcher. Shianna often sits at the counter in the afternoon when her mother is working. Is a quiet place to attend online high school.

At the end of the day, Lisa ties up the broken swing door to the kitchen as the tools necessary to fix it can’t be found. Inside, Kristina and Jason, who work together in the kitchen, grab a quick kiss.

Train tracks pass behind K’s Cafe, which is located on West Main Street in Clarkson. There were once three businesses in the ground floor now occupied by the restaurant. There are two apartments upstairs. Both are occupied by staff members.