Wi­chita cafe’s greeter works for sausage and sleep­ing quar­ters

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Food & Drink - BY DENISE NEIL

A near-down­town Wi­chita restau­rant em­ploys a greeter who is un­usu­ally pop­u­lar with its customer base — and who is be­com­ing Face­book famous.

She works for noth­ing, ex­cept maybe a lit­tle scrap of sausage here and there.

She’s friendly — and mostly re­li­able. Some­times, she goes miss­ing for days at time, wor­ry­ing her em­ploy­ers. Some­times, they have to bail her out.

She’s so pop­u­lar, though, that the own­ers of the restau­rant let her live there rent-free. But her sleep­ing quar­ters are out­side. She’s not al­lowed to come in.

Her name is M.J., and she’s a fe­line fix­ture at Beau­ti­ful Day Cafe, the restau­rant that Charo­lett Knapic opened in May 2015 at 2515 E. Cen­tral.

As soon as con­struc­tion started at the build­ing, M.J. — a kitty with no tail but lots of per­son­al­ity — started hang­ing out on site ev­ery day. When the cafe opened, she was still there. She’d purr at cus­tomers as they walked in. Oc­ca­sion­ally, she’d try to sneak in with them.

Af­ter a while, Knapic learned that M.J. was a part-time res­i­dent of a house across the al­ley from the cafe. She was a stray the neigh­bors adopted, though she re­fused to stay in­doors. The neigh­bors chipped her and named her Max Jr. be­cause she re­minded them of a cat they once had — a tail­less manx named Max. When they re­al­ized Max Jr. was ac­tu­ally a girl, they de­cided to call her M.J. in­stead.

Cus­tomers grew to love M.J., and so did Knapic. For the past three years, she’s fre­quently posted her pic­ture on Face­book and of­fers cus­tomers up­dates on M.J.’s at­tempts to get in­side.

“She likes to hang out at the front door, and if she hears some­body drive up early, she comes right over,” Knapic said. “She’s re­ally quiet. She just comes up near you and looks at you and wants to be pet­ted.”

Twice over the years, M.J. has sud­denly dis­ap­peared. Both times, in­clud­ing for a scary three-week span in Oc­to­ber, Knapic and her cus­tomers were heart­sick. But both times, M.J. was found safe and sound at the pound, likely taken there by some­one who as­sumed she was home­less. The first time, M.J.’s owner paid $50 to bail her out. In Oc­to­ber, her bail in­creased to $85 (sec­ond of­fense) and Knapic paid to spring her.

But M.J. is not home­less, de­spite choos­ing not to spend much time in her ac­tual home. This fall, Knapic as­signed a project to a group of stu­dents from the North­field School of the Lib­eral Arts, who vol­un­teer to work in

THE PER­FECT GIFT FOR A WI­CHITA FOODIE

Imag­ine a world where any­time you saw a restau­rant head­line from

Din­ing with Denise on so­cial me­dia, you could click on it and it would take you right to the story — ev­ery time.

Wouldn’t that be de­li­cious?

The Ea­gle is run­ning a sale that lasts until Dec. 14 for new or re­turn­ing sub­scribers, who for a lit­tle while longer can get a dig­i­tal-only sub­scrip­tion for $7.99 a month. (That’s 40 per­cent off the reg­u­lar price.) Plus, the first month is only 99 cents.

It’s an all-ac­cess pass, too, so that means you can also see all of Matt Riedl’s her restau­rant’s ad­ja­cent gar­den now and then.

She asked them to build a lit­tle house for M.J. that could sit just in front of the cafe, and one day, they did. It’s a lit­tle wooden hut with a kitty-sized door, and it has an “open” sign posted on it. At first, M.J. wasn’t too in­ter­ested in go­ing in. Now, she hangs out in­side all the time. Knapic has even pur­chased a heated mat she plans to put in­side that will make cafe life even co­zier for her No. 1 em­ployee.

Beau­ti­ful Day Cafe din­ers have come to count on see­ing the restau­rant’s lit­tle greeter when they visit. Many of them sneak lit­tle bites from their plates to feed her on the way out. Knapic knows be­cause she’ll of­ten find tiny pieces of sausage or egg M.J. has re­jected lit­ter­ing the front walk.

“If any­thing ever hap­pens to that cat, I am in so much trou­ble,” Knapic said with a laugh. en­ter­tain­ment cov­er­age, all of Tim Pot­ter’s Wi­chita’s crime fol­lowups, all of Tay­lor Eldridge’s Shock­ers cov­er­age.

A dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tion also would make a great Christ­mas gift for the Wi­chita foodie on your Christ­mas list. I’ll even send you a spe­cial Din­ing with Denise an­nounce­ment card you can wrap up and put un­der the tree (though you’ll have to e-mail me sep­a­rately at [email protected]­chi­taea­gle.com and let me know you want one.)

In­ter­ested? Just go to Din­ing with Denise on Face­book. You’ll find the link to sub­scribe at the top of the page.

Cour­tesy photo

M.J. the cat is the host­ess at Beau­ti­ful Day Cafe.

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