Delicious Personalities: Food in Cal Young and the People Behind It

by Katie Armstrong

The Cal Young neighborhood hosts a varietal sampling of special cuisine attractions. From the 50s diner off of Coburg to the student club at Sheldon that bakes cupcakes for charity, Cal Young does not lack for unique and interesting food options.

Here is an in-depth look at some of the unique food places in Cal Young Neighborhood and some of the people behind the dishes.

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Cupcakes for a Cause

“Rhonda made some cupcakes for a test batch today,” Natalie Mertz says, indicating a tray of mini-cupcakes. This week the cupcakes are carrot with a cream cheese frosting.

Mertz is the president of The Cupcake Club at Sheldon High School. It is a nonprofit club

Natalie Mertz and Annie Juilfs are the current co-presidents of The Cupcake Club at Sheldon High School.

that raises money for local charities by creating cupcakes from scratch and selling them after school on Tuesdays and at special events.

Before a member can begin making cupcakes to be sold for the club they have to make a test batch, sampled by all of the members.

Herbert Hahn, the faculty adviser of the club, takes part in testing the batch as well. He says that The Cupcake Club is a unique organization that was founded three years ago by Lily Bussel. Hahn says, “It was her vision. It was a great idea.”

Bussel loved baking and wanted to make a difference in the community. She said that her high school “lacked clubs that were geared towards combining students’ talents with community service,” Bussel continued, “I wanted to begin a club that combined students’ interest in baking with a passion for community service.”

Hahn says that their delicious cupcakes rival cupcakes sold at fancy shops. “They sell a cupcake for eight bucks, my god!” The Cupcake Club’s delicious cupcakes are sold for an even more delicious $1.50.

The simple idea has created a lot of sweet buzz. The Register Guard has written about them and the charities in the area have benefited from their donations. Bussel says that she wanted to focus on local charities. “Baking cupcakes to raise money for local charities was more rewarding for me than sending money in an envelope to the other side of the world.”

A few of Rhonda's test cupcakes.

They recently donated $250 to the Miracle Network. They have donated to numerous local charities in the past including Food For Lane County, Greenhill Humane Society, Birth to Three, CASA of Lane County,  and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Mertz became involved in the club because of her sister. Her sister was president and last year she handed the cupcake reins to Mertz. “I liked what it does for the community,” said Mertz. Mertz is also involved in the National Honor Society, which puts an emphasis on service.

Each member of The Cupcake Club, along with Hahn, tested Rhonda’s cupcakes. They were delicious and they passed the test unanimously.

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A Flavorful Experience

Eight years ago Jeanie Loomis, a former legal secretary, was renting a table out of another caterer’s kitchen. She and a friend wanted to start their own catering business.

Now Flavors Catering is a full-fledged event coordination company operating out of its own kitchen near Oakway Golf Course. Loomis is the manager and owner. It was her vision, and she devotes herself to it full-time.

Loomis was a server at Black Angus Steakhouse while she studied legal office administration. She worked as a legal secretary for one month before returning to what she loved: food.

She became the catering director of The Town Club of Eugene and then worked at Cravings as the assistant. Next she managed West Brothers Catering for five years. (West Brothers went on to start restaurants such as Mucho Gusto and Dickie Jo’s.)

Using her years of experience in food, in both cooking and administration, Loomis decided that it was time she started her own catering company. “I know all aspects of this business,” said Loomis. “If you work here you learn all aspects eventually.”

The employees at Flavors Catering work inconsistent hours, as it is with any catering business. Loomis said, “That’s catering. You can have a $50,000 week and then a week with nothing.” They tend to have different jobs. “I’m an income supplement,” Loomis said.

Flavors serves dishes such as flank steak, hazelnut salmon, and Mexican Caesar salad. They cater to all kinds of events; weddings, Christmas parties, Phil Knight’s Skybox.

Loomis’ personal favorite events to serve are intimate home dinner parties. She likes the interaction with the guests. Taking care of the guests and providing top service reminds her of when she was a server.

Loomis loves the creativity that comes with this job. “This is an art. It’s not painting or anything but we work odd hours. You have to be a little crazy to do this.”

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Burger, Breakfast, and a Smile

It’s the cute, quaint, bustling diner joint on Coburg Road. It’s the restaurant that has décor that keeps you as captivated as its burgers do.

It’s the best way to describe Buddy’s Diner. Just ask two of its regulars, Jim and Lonnie Roberts. They have been dining here a couple times a week for about 5 years. Jim also meets his fishing buddy Roger at Buddy’s every week.

The Buddy Holly namesake restaurant started 20 years ago. Back then it was called “Chubby’s.” Tami Carpenter is the manager now.

Carpenter’s parents are the reason she works in food. “They sucked me in,” she said. They have bought and sold several restaurants.

Carpenter’s first food job was at the Snack Shack. She and her friend Lori Holloway ran the entire operation. After her parents sold the place, Holloway and Carpenter moved to Buddy’s, which is a much bigger restaurant than the Snack Shack. “We laugh, we joke, we say we ‘graduated.’” Holloway cooks and Carpenter manages.

Buddy’s Diner continues to grow and people of all ages frequent the door. New customers or regulars, the mellow atmosphere and quirky decorations draw in customers.

For a little while last year, the restaurant struggled with visibility due to the new protocol of stores being built right up to the sidewalk. So last spring they painted the exterior from white to red. “It made all the difference in the world,” said Carpenter.

Although the outward appearance may change, and customers may fluctuate, the 50s decorations are there to stay. Most of the décor was there since Carpenter began five years ago. She says that sometimes customers donate decorations to put up.

Jim and Lonnie Roberts enjoy breakfast at Buddy's Diner.

The positive rapport with customers is part of the draw of Buddy’s. “When you’re here long enough you get to know everybody,” said Carpenter.

For her, she says that making customers happy is the most rewarding part of the job. As she puts it, the best part is “seeing people go ‘ooooooohhh that was good, we’ll be back.’”

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Smokestack Catering: Family Fun Business

Wood-fired meat. Hearty side dishes. Hand-crafted sauces. The smell alone could cause a mouth to water.

Barbecue catering businesses are becoming increasingly popular. One such catering business has been smoking meat for over 30 years. When Angelia Peterson, the current owner and manager of Smokestack Catering, was 11 years old her father fell in love with smoked meat.

Peterson said, “The first time we made smoked food it was so bad even our dogs couldn’t eat it.” But soon after that they catered a small tractor show at Willamette Christian School. It was like magic. The rest is history. Smokestack Catering now has catered to crowds of up to 500 people.

The business was called Smokey’s BBQ for awhile while Peterson’s parents ran a restaurant. They closed the restaurant in 2003 and Peterson has ran the catering business ever since.

Peterson’s parents are still very involved. She employs social relatives to be servers at events and she says her dad could not stay away because this is his major love.

Peterson could be described as someone with a broad range of interests. She says that she was interested in fashion and fitness when she was younger. Now in addition to single-handedly running Smokestack Catering, she is a professional photographer and runs a quilt company with her mother.

For Peterson, the catering business is a social outlet. She enjoys interacting with customers. “I like meeting people,” she said.

Peterson says that making the client happy is far more important than money. She enjoys what she does and would not continue to smoke food if it she did not like it. “I do it to play with food and have fun,” Peterson said.

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