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Spicy Olive Café opens in Hammond

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HAMMOND - Cooking at the Spicy Olive Café, 43 Main St., is a family affair.

The restaurant, which opened last week, offers Tex-Mex and Italian food and homemade desserts.

The theme of the café was inspired by owner Jacqueline S. Washburn’s recent trip to Spain where she hiked the El Camino de Santiago, a 160-mile hike from Ponferrada to Santiago.

“Every few miles there were these small cafés,” Mrs. Washburn said. “They were filled with personality, local flair and the outside seating was wonderful. It was a place you could socialize and meet people. They are wonderful, warm and you feel like you are going to see your cousins because everyone is so nice and friendly.”

Ms. Washburn then incorporated those ideas into the business model for the Spicy Olive.

“I always wanted to own a café but I wasn’t sure what kind of café that I wanted,” Mrs. Washburn said. “I was thinking about making it a Wi-Fi café, but I decided I wanted a place where neighbors could meet up and converse. That’s kind of what it is turning into and I am really thrilled that I stuck with that.”

Mrs. Washburn said she decided to pursue her dream of owning her own café when she retired from her career as a hair dresser after 20 years last year.

“Cooking has been a lifelong passion of mine,” owner Jacqueline S. Washburn said Thursday. “I have cooked my whole life. I started when I was 12 years old and I made my first blackberry pie. I love the creativity involved with putting together the right dish and sharing that with other people. It’s almost like a blessing that I am extending to someone else.”

Cooking has been a family tradition in Mrs. Washburn’s family since her grandparents operated a café in Watertown during the prohibition.

“I have four children and that’s what we do,” Ms. Washburn said. “We gather around, we cook, we eat and we talk. That’s how we spend our time together. Being raised Italian, it’s kind of part of who we are.”

When the house next door to their home at 41 Main St. was offered for sale, the family thought it would be the perfect opportunity to take the plunge into the restaurant business.

Mrs. Washburn’s husband, Gregory M., used his 32 years of experience as an electrician to help modify the two–story home into a café that seats 35, with additional seating outside. While their daughter, Katlyn M. Hunt, 23, works as the restaurant’s staff manager.

“It’s great,” Ms. Hunt said. “My mom and I are best friends and I couldn’t ask for a better person to work for. I am able to use my own restaurant experience to help her. Working up front, I also get to hear what the customers want, so I work with my mom to help set up the menu each week.”

The menu changes with the seasons. In the fall, the restaurant will serve homemade apple pie and squash soup, while in the spring it will serve dishes with red potatoes in buttermilk garlic sauce, Ms. Washburn said.

“It’s based on what is fresh and what our chefs feel like creating,” she said. “Our evening chef, George Mulkin, and I will work together. Between the two of us, we do pretty well.”

The café includes about five menu options for dinner.

“We have a rotating evening menu where we only have four or five items,” Mrs. Washburn said. “We serve whatever we feel is fresh. We could have lasagna and southwest chicken or asparagus and Alfredo sauce over egg noodles.”

The café also serves family favorites, such as buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese, chicken enchiladas, and sausage, gravy and biscuits. During the summer, the vegetables are picked up from local farmer’s markets, Ms. Washburn said

Everything from the café is homemade-from the corn chips to the maple syrup made from the family’s very own sugar bush.

Tuesday’s Black Bean soup special, was made with onions, cilantro, coriander, cumin, lime, black beans, and chicken broth and a few other secret ingredients, Ms. Washburn said.

“I want our customers to feel the person who made their meal enjoyed making and presenting it,” Ms. Washburn said. “That is why we have such a limited menu in the evening. Instead of making 25 things mediocre, we have five things that are really good and fresh.”

The restaurant also serves beer and wine from nearby Bella-Brooke Winery.

The couple is hoping the restaurant will inspire others to start up businesses in a struggling area in need of economic development.

“We’re trying to bring something different into the community,” Mr. Washburn said. “We hope we can inspire other people to be aggressive and to take this approach – to help create jobs and promote St. Lawrence County. I grew up on a farm. I am a believer in hard work and perseverance can take you very far in life.”

Ms. Hunt said she is proud to be a part of the family business.

“Both of them have come a long way,” Ms. Hunt said of her parents. “In the last two years they had a house in Macomb and it burnt in the ground. They went from buying a new place, buying building for the café, remodeling it, and now they are café owners. In the past two years they have been through quite a journey. Not a lot of people realize what they came back from. They went from the lowest of lows to new business owners.”

When asked what the secret is to her family’s determination, Ms. Hunt quoted Mr. Washburn, “Running a business in Hammond is tough, but the Washburns are tougher.”

The café is open from 6a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

To place a takeout order, call 324-5111.

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