WDAY.com |

North Dakota's #1 news website 10,650,498 page views — March 2014

Published August 29, 2013, 10:00 PM

Smiles on the menu: Café serves up friendship, food

FARGO - After a few visits to Café Robert, the four women who run it will know your name. Imagine “Cheers,” “but with really good food,” says Therese Orr, a regular patron at Café Robert.

By: Anna G. Larson, INFORUM

FARGO - After a few visits to Café Robert, the four women who run it will know your name.

Imagine “Cheers,” “but with really good food,” says Therese Orr, a regular patron at Café Robert.

The small lunch spot housed in Scheels Home & Hardware here features homemade food, but that’s only part of what keeps customers coming back.

The four women who operate the café add a special touch that makes customers feel at home.

Orr, of Fargo, has been frequenting Café Robert nearly every day for the past year and a half and looks forward to seeing the ladies and catching up when she grabs lunch.

“You just feel like one of them. They know you, they know when you’re gone, and they know most people by name,” Orr says. “That just helps make it all the better.”

The women who whip up homemade food daily are Michele La Haise-Bates, Chris Sinner, Vicki Melchoir and Cindy Krauter, all of Fargo.

The café foursome says their tight-knit relationships are the result of Fargo being a “small, intertwined world.” Melchoir came on board after café manager La Haise-Bates convinced her over a cup of coffee that it’d be fun. Melchoir recruited her long-time friend Krauter, and Sinner and Melchoir know each other from a sewing class.

Sinner explains that above everything, food connects the women.

“Food is love, community and trust,” Sinner says. “Everyone contributes, and we all experiment at home.”

The women have learned to groove together, often finishing each other’s sentences, and they say that each person brings unique strengths to the table. For instance, La Haise-Bates is considered the resident foodie who teaches the other women about food. La Haise-Bates’s quick to brush off the accolade, saying that the operation is totally collaborative.

“This isn’t a one-woman operation, this is a team,” she says. “I think that in the workplace, there are those stresses working together with other women, but there’s no competition with each other. Everyone pitches in. We’re one big happy family, and it’s true.”

“It sounds so schmaltzy, but it’s true,” Melchoir adds.

The ladies, who are all in their 50s, describe themselves as family-oriented mothers, and the food they prepare at Café Robert, named for Scheels associates Robert Alin and Robert Scheel, reflects their values.

The friends and co-workers spend time together outside of work, eating and bonding at the informal “staff meetings.”

“The food we prepare is really an extension of our own homes and our own kitchens,” La Haise-Bates says. “Everything is made with love, that extra TLC.”

Regular customers and first-timers notice the homemade touch that accompanies each menu item. Sally Roerick, of Fargo, appreciates the fresh, flavorful menu that changes seasonally. Among other lunch options, she’s a fan of the black bean soup that’s served on Wednesdays.

“Everything is so fresh tasting, and they don’t over season anything,” Roerick says. “I consider myself to be kind of a foodie – I’m a picky person.”

She’s already looking forward to the café’s fall harvest chicken salad that only comes around when the leaves start to change color.

“The food makes me feel like I’ve just stopped at a little bistro,” Roerick says.

Krauter credits La Haise-Bates with setting high standards for the lunch spot.

“Michele has a vision for this café. It’s not your basic chicken salad. It’s tweaked to something unique and special,” Krauter says.

For summer, the ladies concocted a Napa chicken salad that marries chicken with grapes, cranberries, pecans, celery and poppy seeds. It’s a customer favorite, along with the Mexican chef salad and black bean soup.

Patrons line up for all three because when they’re gone, they’re gone. Everything at Café Robert is made in small batches for freshness.

On a typical weekday, the café’s tables are packed, and Scheels has expanded and remodeled the café area three times since its opening in 2006. Many new customers stumble upon the espresso bar and café accidentally as they shop in the store.

“It’s not every day you see a café in a hardware store. We’re a little hidden gem,” La Haise-Bates says. “It’s been really fun to see the same people come back over and over throughout the years. It’s really become a gathering spot.”

Baby showers, birthday celebrations, afternoon games of mahjong and friend catch-up sessions are known to take place at the tables of Café Robert.

Customers, like Roerick, see the ladies having fun while they work. It’s an attribute she’s noticed since she first started coming to the café two and a half years ago. Now, Roerick frequents the spot at least three to four times per week.

“The ladies who work there are just sweethearts. They like what they’re doing, and it shows,” she says. “I feel like they’re my friends.”

The four Café Robert associates feel the same way, explaining that customers aren’t just customers – they’re friends.

“Customers become friends,” Melchoir says. “We’re all a family now.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525

Business profile

What: Café Robert

Where: 3202 13th Ave. S., Fargo (inside Scheels Home & Hardware)

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday

Contact: Call (701) 232-8903 or email caferobert@ideaone.net.

Info: Serves sandwiches, paninis, salads, soups and coffee drinks. Daily emails let customers know what’s on the café’s menu that day. To sign up, call or email Café Robert.