• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Familiar faces, food make Callie’s feel like home

Breakfast always draws a huge crowd at Callie’s Homestyle Restaurant, but that’s especially true on Saturdays when owner Judy Martin says it’s tough to find a parking space. Homemade gravy, country ham and country fried steak are among the more popular choices for breakfast, Martin says. “… Breakfast,” says customer Ken Alexander, “is probably everybody’s favorite meal. It’s like eating at home.” Customers – some who eat there two or three times a day – can always expect good country comfort food “like granny used to make” when they eat breakfast, lunch or dinner at Callie’s on Lexington Road, Martin says. “We try to stay as close to homemade as we can,” she adds. Customers can order whatever’s on the menu or they can choose the special for $7.99 – macaroni and tomatoes with greens, fried cornbread and salmon croquettes on a recent day. “It’s just a comfortable place to eat,” says Lillie Cox, one of many regulars. “The food’s good. That’s the best thing. And it’s affordable.” Server Josie Coyle was back to work at Callie’s while on winter break from Western Kentucky University. So she knows many of the customers, who she says are “amazing, obviously,” and what they order. “You can almost set your clock by when we arrive,” says Alexander. He likened the atmosphere to that of an English or Scottish pub – “where everybody knows everybody.” On a recent afternoon, he’s seated at a table with R.E. “Doc” Wells, former curator at the Woodford County Historical Society, who indeed has a doctorate (in art history). “They make you feel like family here,” says Wells, a regular for four or five years. “And like a lot of bachelors, it’s easier to come here and get breakfast and lunch or breakfast and dinner than to … cook it yourself because it’s really hard to cook for one. And they make you feel so, so wanted.” If he doesn’t stop by Callie’s to say hi (and eat a meal), Wells says he would miss the servers, other staffers and regulars. “We’re all family,” he says. “We all talk to each other. We ask about grandchildren and spouses. How they’re doing … It’s the closest thing to having a family …, (and) they always have good food.” Wells even has a special mug for his coffee. Oh, it’s not really special – it just isn’t plastic. Callie’s owner Martin says she has always strived to give back to the community. The recent “Blessing Boot Tree” party was an opportunity for her staff and customers to get behind an event for preschool-age children from lower-income families in the community. The kids (21 boys and 17 girls) received boots, socks, hats, scarves and gloves for the winter during a pizza party at Callie’s. Other organizations also got involved, including the Mustang Club, which donated new Christmas blankets for all the children, according to Martin. Others in the community supported the Christmas event with toy donations (so the siblings of the preschoolers also received something), and by volunteering so Mr. and Mrs. Clause were able to attend. “The kids loved those boots,” says Martin. “… I’ve had two parents that have come in here that told me they cannot get their kids to take the boots off. They sleep in them, because my customers went all out,” so children received nice boots, including ones that light up. “I loved it. I enjoyed everything about it,” adds Martin. Because people in the community are so willing to help out whenever a need arises, Martin says she’s always opened the doors of her restaurant to help them make a difference in the lives of others. She learned the value of giving back to others from her mom. “… It’s such a better feeling than getting,” says Martin. So if an elderly person cannot get out, she’s made sure a meal was delivered to their home. Police officers and other first responders were served meals at no charge after Martin purchased Callie’s in 2011 because “they do so much for us … the least that I could do was feed them,” she says. “… I did that until (2016 when) my husband got sick and disabled. And I cried for three days when I couldn’t do it anymore.” She wrote personal letters to the first responders explaining why she could only take 10 percent off their meals, she says. Callie’s feeds veterinarians who volunteer their time at Hope Spay and Neuter Clinic, according to Martin, who says, “I love giving back to the community. I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m a firm believer that when you give with the good heart, God’s going to take care of you, and He has. “… God has always taken care of me and Callie’s.” Growing up in Lexington, Martin’s mom, Beulah Williams, taught her four children the importance of helping others in whatever way possible – even if that meant buying a little extra peanut butter and bread so neighborhood kids could come to their home to get a sandwich if they were hungry. Her memories of “Momma Beulah” feeding those kids are a reminder of how a meal can show somebody “we care about you,” she says. When one of Callie’s regulars didn’t stop by for a couple of weeks, workers there knew something must be wrong. So they asked police to do a welfare check. “He’d been really, really sick and couldn’t get out,” recalls Martin. “It just thrilled him (that his family at Callie’s was worried). So we took him food until he got well.” He thanked her staff by giving them each a card with $50 from Santa, she says. Martin had never owned a restaurant before she purchased Callie’s in 2011. She was director of a daycare center for 200 children in Lexington before pursuing a lifelong desire to open her own restaurant. “I absolutely love it,” says Martin of owning a restaurant. Martin was told if she could make it three to five years – “it’s been almost nine” – she’d be fine. The restaurant was named for the previous owner’s (Nelson Wilder) grandmother, and Martin says she just decided to keep the name. Her sister, Kathy Mason, cooked at Callie’s before and after Martin purchased the restaurant, but retired because of a liver disease a few years ago. Ashley Martin manages the restaurant for her mom. “My daughter frees me up to be … more social. That’s what they (her staff) want me to do. They want me to be out there (in the dining room) with the customers. So I try to do that as often as I can,” says Martin, who handles the financial books, but also cooks, washes dishes, and does “whatever needs to be done.” Ashley doesn’t want her mom in the kitchen when she’s cooking so she can concentrate on her passion. “I love cooking. I love feeding people. That’s what I was raised to do,” says Ashley. Asked if she has a secret ingredient for her meatloaf, a recipe she learned from her Aunt Kathy, she says, “Love. It’s made with love.”

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