Restau­rant Own­ers Face Chal­lenges

McDonald County Press - - COUNTY - Rachel Dick­er­son

Hus­band and wife team Teresa Ezell and Chris Black own and op­er­ate The Cave Bar and Grill in Lana­gan. They say run­ning a restau­rant in a cave comes with unique chal­lenges.

They opened July 4, 2013. Ezell said Black pur­chased the prop­erty in 2011, and it took a cou­ple of years to get it ready to open up to the pub­lic.

The prop­erty opened for the first time as a restau­rant in 1940. From that time on it was open some­times as a restau­rant and some­times as a tour­ing cave, she said.

“It went into dis­re­pair. The pre­vi­ous own­ers didn’t know how to han­dle the flood­ing is­sue,” she said.

Be­fore open­ing the restau­rant, Ezell was a high school prin­ci­pal in In­di­anapo­lis, Ind., and Black was an IT spe­cial­ist for the Depart­ment of De­fense, Ezell said.

Asked how they got into the restau­rant busi­ness, she said, “It’s kind of our re­tire­ment. Some­thing to do.”

The own­ers keep goats in a pen on the grounds. “The goats are a ma­jor at­trac­tion,” Ezell said. “They prob­a­bly get more pub­lic­ity than some Hol­ly­wood stars on the In­ter­net and Face­book. Kids like them and fam­i­lies. While they’re wait­ing on food, it’s some­thing to do.”

Re­gard­ing the chal­lenges of run­ning their own restau­rant, Ezell said, “From the ground up, it’s not like a fran­chise.” She used to own a Sub­way in In­di­anapo­lis, she said.

“The fran­chise tells you how to make a sand­wich … as a lit­tle mom and pop place, you have to de­ter­mine that,” she said.

An­other chal­lenge, she said, is mak­ing sure your em­ploy­ees un­der­stand the stan­dards and the clien­tele of the restau­rant.

“Even though it says ‘bar and grill,’ it’s not a hook-up joint. We have a lot of fam­i­lies that come in,” she said.

Black said once a lady who was about 90 years old came in with her fam­ily, and he sur­mised that she was the one who wanted to make the trip. He said he thought it was neat that she made the ef­fort.

An­other time six bar­tenders from Kansas City came down to check out the restau­rant, he said.

They have had vis­i­tors from as close as Spring­field, Ok­la­homa and Texas and from as far away as Aus­tralia and Africa, Black said.

They have two ma­jor sources of clien­tele — bik­ers and car clubs, and campers and ca­noers, Ezell said.

The cave is not open for tours. The own­ers send any­one want­ing to see a cave to Bluff Dweller’s Cave in Noel, Ezell said, not­ing it is all they can do to keep up with the restau­rant.

They open in the spring for week­ends only, then, start­ing Memo­rial Day week­end, they are open seven days a week un­til the third week of Septem­ber, and then they go back to week­ends only un­til the weather does not per­mit.

The num­ber of em­ploy­ees varies from three to eight (in ad­di­tion to the two own­ers).

Ezell said, “It’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent run­ning a restau­rant in a cave.” They have to not only go through health in­spec­tions but also a min­ing in­spec­tion once a year to en­sure the in­tegrity of the cave.

“The din­ing room is con­sid­ered a cave,” she said.

She also noted the restau­rant floods, but they just take out the ta­bles and pres­sure wash. The build­ing where the kitchen and bath­rooms are drains down into the din­ing room, she said.

“Stor­age is a prob­lem. I can’t build on. I can’t raise my ceil­ings. I can’t lower my floors,” she said, point­ing to the rock for­ma­tions.

She said they have learned they can­not keep salt on the ta­bles be­cause of the hu­mid­ity out­doors.

“It’s an un­usual place. It’s unique,” she said. “On a Fri­day and Satur­day night, ev­ery seat is filled.”

The restau­rant serves Amer­i­can fare, spe­cial­iz­ing in burg­ers, as well as sand­wiches, sal­ads and ap­pe­tiz­ers.

Black said, “Most peo­ple seem­ingly re­ally do en­joy the food.”

Dur­ing the off­sea­son, Ezell said she works on a lot of crafts. She also has an­other busi­ness next door, a con­ve­nience store. She is part of the McDon­ald County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and, in the past, she has vol­un­teered at the li­brary. She is also on the Lana­gan City Coun­cil.

RACHEL DICK­ER­SON/MCDON­ALD COUNTY PRESS

Teresa Ezell, owner of The Cave Bar and Grill in Lana­gan, is pic­tured in the restau­rant’s din­ing room.

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