By Greg Ritchie
CROCKETT – For the last two years, Keisha’s Cafe in downtown Crockett has served customers from a prime spot on the corner of the square. Housed in a historical building, the small but cozy restaurant has tempted diners with both comfort food and sometimes, exotic and unique offerings.
Owner Keisha Thomas recently found out the building has been sold and is now in search of a new home in Crockett. Thomas came to fame at the age of 18 when, in 1996, she attended a protest against racism. Tensions got hot, and the crowd spotted a man they believed might be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. When some began to beat the unarmed man, Thomas stepped in to protect him. She shielded the man from the blows telling the crowd, “You can’t beat goodness into a person.” Standing up for a stranger gained Thomas notoriety and even a couple of appearances on the Oprah show. Oprah told Thomas she had done the right thing.
Thomas eventually made her way to the Crockett area. Her idea was to become a farmer and live closer to the soil. She found out what all too many farmers do – it’s not an easy business.
“I came here to be a farmer. I learned how to rake and bale hay,” Thomas said. “The most important lesson I learned is that 65% of farming is fixing farm equipment. And if you don’t have the money to fix it, you’d better have the hands – and I had neither.”
She didn’t give up and decided she could help her adopted community by opening up a restaurant. Keisha’s Cafe’s motto is “Good Food for the Greater Good.” Soon after arriving, Crockett – and Keisha’s desire to do good – were put to the test.
“When I came, I made a number of promises to the community. I promised I would take care of it any way I could. When the tornado happened, we shut the restaurant down to help,” Thomas explained. “I didn’t know many people here then, but I had been helping with disasters around the country for many years. It was easy for us to step up. But it’s even better when the community comes together to help.”
Two years later, and the next challenge is to find a new home for the cafe. Thomas said the owners of the building have been great, and she understands the need to sell.
“The building was sold and it’s a great, historical building, Thomas said. “A lot of people want to bring the downtown area back, and there’s a lot of work going on downtown.”
“We need every ounce of support and help that we can get,” Thomas said. As of press time, Thomas has 70 days to find a new location.
Thomas hopes to find a place suited to her needs – and appropriate to continue to work with the kids she employes.
“We are looking for a place – maybe with parking. Our kitchen is super small and it’s hard to teach the kids in there. As you may notice, these kids out-cook me now. They have pushed me out of the kitchen which is exactly what I wanted. I wanted them to come, learn from me, and do better with their own ideas,” Thomas said.
When Thomas talks about the ‘kids’ that help her run the restaurant – it’s not just a turn of phrase. The waitress on this particular Sunday was 15. The young man cutting the fresh herbs from the garden and cooking the dishes in the kitchen – all of 16.
“All they need is to want to work and learn. Some of the kids when they came here didn’t know how to use a can opener. One didn’t know how to use plastic wrap. One of the kids who didn’t know how to use a can opener – I walked in the kitchen – and she was teaching the kid how to do it. Those are the wins. I have seen these kids learn leadership. Critical thinking. Problem solving. Teamwork. All the stuff you need in the real world,” Thomas said.
“I wanted people to know me for hard work, great service, helping the community and teaching the kids. This whole summer we had nothing but people under the age of 18. We have a 4.9 rating on Google.”
15-year-old Hali Beard is a freshman at Latexo High School. Juggling work and school has not always been easy for her, but she has learned a lot from the job – and from Keisha.
“I can handle it pretty well – I am pretty responsible. I have learned how to cook better and how to talk to and serve people – the social aspects of it,” Beard said. “I usually work on the weekends and maybe one day a week. I try to make my school my top priority and also balance my job so I don’t get stressed. I try to save my money from this job for college and stuff. I’m learning how to use money wisely.”
Thomas is passionate about teaching the kids how to run a restaurant – and be better people all-around. Her aim is to show them through this latest setback that nothing is impossible as long as you try.
“The community has really stepped up to help and I appreciate that. I want to show these kids we are willing to step up to the plate and do the hard work,” Thomas explained. “The people will see that. I tell the kids, ‘If you are ever out of gas, don’t get out and start waving for help. Get out and start pushing the car first. You’ll be surprised who is going to help you push that car.’ These are the lessons I want to teach these kids.”
Thomas is asking for the community to support her in the meantime.
“Over the next 72 days, come in and buy from us. Come in and patronize our business. We need to roll up our sleeves and show these kids we can do it. People are already reaching out to help. But we have to put forth the effort. As soon as we find our building, we are switching from restaurant to construction crew!” Thomas said.
No one wants to lose another business in the Crockett area – least of all one that has proven so popular with locals and tourists. Thomas is ready for the fight to find a new home. She accepts that it is all part of the growth of the community.
“Sometimes things that don’t help me help Crockett, which is for the greater good. It’s all about the team,” Thomas noted.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]