By Chuck Woodbury
I first posted this story in early 2013, after visiting this small town restaurant on a road trip to the Southwest. I love Mom and Pop places like this. Alas, you don’t see them much anymore. When I visited I wondered how long the business could survive, now that a McDonald’s had opened just down road. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when I just learned, now five years later, that the cafe has closed after close to 50 years in business. I thought you might enjoy my story.
A guy, a stranger, walks into Kelcy’s Cafe in Tehachapi, Calif., and asks, “How would you like 100 free ceramic coffee mugs?”
Then he walks into two other cafes in the small town and asks the same thing. They all say yes. Free is good.
Then he knocks on doors around town offering business people ad messages on the cups. He sells six ads. He orders the 300 coffee mugs. After awhile, the finished cups come back. He delivers them to the cafes. They place them on tables. In them, they serve coffee and tea and other hot beverages. Theoretically, the locals and tourists read the ads, respond once in awhile, and everybody is happy.
The guy, meanwhile, pays for the cups with the ad revenue and keeps what’s left over as profit. Then he heads down the road to the next down and repeats the process.
Well, this is pretty much what happened awhile back in Tehachapi, a once thriving railroad town in the shadow of a thousand giant windmills in the Tehachapi mountain range midway between Bakersfield and Mojave.
Kelcy’s Cafe, though, has done this before. Dollars are hard to come by hereabouts. They always have been, but especially now that fast food joints have found the town.
The cafe looks like it has not changed in 50 years. Same with the adjacent formal dining room, where the cups with the advertising are placed on tables right along with silverware and neatly rolled paper napkins. Locals out for a night on the town dine here and probably high school kids on prom night, too. The tables are not bare, but no tablecloths. Instead, they’re plastered with ad messages as you can see in the picture.
Stop by Kelcy’s. The food is good. The waiters are friendly. And check out the clock above the counter — ads there, too.