Manager taking reins at ‘Wildcat’

ELMORE – Cinda Hagedorn never wanted to run the Wildcat Cafe, but soon she will own it.

“I originally started the Wildcat Cafe for YSI, but I never, ever wanted to manage,” she said.

Hagedorn worked for Elmore Academy for 16 years, beginning as a youth counselor on the floor, then moving into a secretary position with the facility for at-risk teens, run by Youth Services International.

The Wildcat Cafe was the former senior center and newspaper office before being converted into a restaurant where the teens at Elmore Academy could get some work experience.

“We had a different manager for a while; it didn’t work out,” Hagedorn said. “They did talk me into managing. I don’t even remember how that came about, but here I am.”

And here she’s been for 10 years.

It all could have come to an end when T.J. Mauer, acting facility administrator, announced earlier this month that Elmore Academy would be closing and the Wildcat Cafe with it.

“I was upset, like everybody was who’d lose a job,” Hagedorn said of hearing the news. “Plus, I worked there so long. It was disappointing.

“I thought about the community. I knew [the cafe] would be missed,” she added.

Hagedorn just couldn’t let go.

“When T.J. called and told me [about the closing], I immediately said, ‘I’ll buy it; see if they’ll sell it to me,'” she said.

She is excited about taking over, but realizes, “I just made more work for myself.”

She is leasing the building until the end of the month, then takes over as owner Feb. 1.

Hagedorn has lots of ideas for the future, but is coy about most of them. One she will discuss is putting in a small convenience store in the empty front entry to stock “only what people might need in a pinch.”

Other changes are in the works.

“The menu is changing,” Hagedorn said. “I’m working on it now, it’s almost done. It’s gonna be changed a little bit, nothing ritzy.”

She said the hours will remain the same for now.

More changes might come after the weather warms up.

In spite of losing all her teenage help, Hagedorn plans to only hire one other person, part time, to help during lunch.

“I had just one adult here, two days a week,” she said. “I’ve been pretty much doing it.”

She is going to miss the students, whom the Wildcat has always employed. They had to earn the privilege to work at the cafe. The experienced ones helped the newcomers.

They got a few perks too.

“All the food they could eat and pop, which they never got up there [at the school],” Hagedorn said. “Helping the people who came in, especially the older people. They really enjoyed that.”

She tried to teach them things along the way.

Hagedorn’s help didn’t stop when the kids left Elmore Academy and the Wildcat.

“I got the kids many jobs. They’d apply for jobs and use me as a reference,” she said.

She is grateful she took a chance on the Wildcat and grateful to the people who gave her that chance.

“I feel we helped a lot of kids,” she said. “I still have kids calling the cafe and wondering how I’m doing. Of course I ask how they’re doing; I want to know.

“The community is going to miss all the community service [the kids did].

“I know there’s been a lot of bad reports in the newspapers about YSI, but honestly, those were just a few things that may have happened. There are many more good things that happened at YSI. The kids and staff really build a good relationship up there. Most of the staff would do anything to help those kids better themselves.”