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'It's our place': Greenleaf community rallies around local cafe, treasure

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GREENLEAF – Nathan’s Greenleaf Cafe is more than just your average greasy-spoon diner. It’s a way of life for residents in west Canyon County.

Located on Main Street, the local mainstay appears to be a little bit of everything for those in Greenleaf and surrounding enclaves such as Caldwell, Homedale and Wilder.

A recent Thursday at the establishment was like every other morning: Tables were full, the place was abuzz with customers from all walks of life enjoying abnormally large portions, and enthusiastic banter was prevalent among local residents.

“I’ve made a lot of good friends here,” said Jerry Raburn, a retired rancher, sipping a cup of coffee. “I’ve had a reputation here that this is kind of my office.”

In the past month, however, the establishment’s future has come into question.

According to Roger Daniels, who started the business in 2015, the lease is about to expire. The landlords, Eric and Karen Perry, told the tenants they won’t continue leasing the building, according to Daniels. The family – Roger, his son Nathan and Nathan’s daughter Aspen – either need to drum up the money to buy it or be forced to leave.

With that said, Roger Daniels said the family had been talking about buying the restaurant for the past handful of years anyway and has been trying to work out a lease-purchase deal on the 3,600 square-foot building.

Greenleaf Cafe

Roger Daniels interacts with customers at Nathan's Greenleaf Cafe on May 11. Daniels and his family started the business in 2015.

But when Nathan Daniels went to meet the Perrys, their asking price — $350,000 — was more than the family thought they could afford.

The lease ran out on May 15 and sale of the property had to close by June 7, according to Roger Daniels.

Attempts to reach the Perrys for this story were unsuccessful.

Either way, the Daniels needed to come up with cash quick – $70,000 for a down payment, Roger Daniels said.

Fortunately, the community has risen to the challenge, as donations have been arriving from far and wide to keep Nathan’s Greenleaf Cafe up and running.

A community initiative started by restaurant patrons Myrna Tuning and Betty Lanum has blossomed into an unsolicited success, with over $78,000 in donations pouring in over the past two weeks.

Tuning said that one $50,000 donation was a shot in the arm, while the remaining donations have ranged from $7 to $2,000.

In a text message Roger Daniels said it's possible the family can now put down enough money to get a loan to buy the facility.

The group hopes to continue raising money which can go towards parking lot work, roof repair and additional maintenance that needs to be done on the facility. 

Tuning, for her part, said she’s been amazed by the response.

“It really overwhelms me,” she said. “Really.”

“We went in for breakfast one day and there was a note on the table that they would be closing on such-and-such a date. They couldn’t come up with the money,” Tuning added. “Well, we saw that and decided that it couldn’t happen.”

In mid-sentence during last week’s interview, Roger Daniels was handed a $20 bill, delivered from a student at Greenleaf Academy who walked across the street to make the donation.

It’s those small gestures that have made all the difference, he said.

“You know, this is what it’s all about," he said. "They have made it very clear that closing, this place changing hands, us not being here, those are simply not available options for the people.”

Greenleaf Cafe

Nathan's Greenleaf Cafe customer Mel Gibson interacts with 4-year-old Weston Quenzer during breakfast on May 11.

One step inside the establishment and it’s easy to see why.

The sense of community is palpable. Customers ranging from young children to high schoolers, to farm workers to retirees are all in the fray.

According to patrons, the day the Daniels took over a transformation occurred, as an average eatery became a pillar of social engagement.

“Seldom miss a day,” said Middleton resident Walt Zischke. “It’s pretty much my second home.”

Zischke rattled off the characteristics that make Nathan’s endearing — family-operated, personable, patriotic, and a neighbor-first environment.

“Roger, his family and staff are a microcosm of America,” Zischke said. “There are places of hatred, people that are misguided. It’s sad to watch. The more I came here, though, the more I fell in love with the place.”

Greenleaf Cafe

A steaming hot breakfast is served up in the window at Nathan's Greenleaf Cafe during the morning rush on May 11.

Open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, the menu is known for its great hamburgers and hearty breakfasts.

Customers spoke about its Sunday specials and giving back to the community through charity and donations. A plethora of servers greet them with a smile and a first-name welcome. A hot cup of coffee generally follows.

“Roger and Nathan have an uncanny ability to hire top-of-the-notch people. People with work ethic, great personalities,” Zischke said. “All of the staff has adopted me.”

Danielle Simmons, who has been working at the cafe for over six years, said during that time she has been on maternity leave twice. In each instance, she has returned to work.

"Every time I come back. I can't leave," she said. "Thinking of finding another job where it would mean something else would be a bummer."

A back meeting room is home to Bible study groups, family reunions and graduation parties.

“All the above,” Daniels said.

Greenleaf Cafe

A bible study group gathers in a meeting room at Nathan's Greenleaf Cafe on May 11.

Walls of the room are filled with historic Canyon County memorabilia and American flags. The upper-left corner wall features an eclectic photo collection of presidents – Donald J. Trump and Ronald Reagan bookended by John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman, as Republicans and Democrats coexist in one place.

Roger Daniels harkened back to when he took over the restaurant.

“Paper on the windows, door locked,” he said.

“This is where it all began …This is a story that can only happen in America.”

Daniels is confident the restaurant doors will stay open this time. The community won’t have it any other way.

“It shows how important this place is here,” Raburn said. “You don’t just give money away for no reason. For us, it’s actually a selfish reason. It’s our place.”

Teddy Feinberg is the Managing Editor at the Idaho Press. He can be reached at 208-465-8110. Follow him on Twitter: @TeddyFeinberg

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