After 34 years in business, Tahoe’s Wildflower Cafe to close
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Looking back on the 3½ decades in business, Wildflower Café owner Ellen Toto says the key to success is all about atmosphere.
“You just have to treat your customers like friends and family, and treat your employees the same way and work together,” she said. “You can’t put yourself above everyone else. You have to be able to relate to them. Relate to your employees and relate to your customers.”
Toto offered those words of wisdom Wednesday, Oct. 10, two days before the Wildflower Café’s final day. After nearly 34 years in business, Ellen and her husband George decided to hang up their aprons, closing the doors on one of Incline Village’s most beloved eateries.
“I come here every work day — it’s my home away from home,” remarked John Mueller, a middle school music teacher. “People who work here are like family and they treat you like family. You can come here and talk to different community members – it’s been a way to connect. I’ve even had parent/teacher conferences right here at the counter. I’m really going to miss it.”
The Totos made the decision earlier this week after what they say was an ongoing disagreement with the building’s owner, Marilyn Chim, who purchased the building in 2017. The Totos said Chim wouldn’t give them a lease beyond one year at a time. That restriction not only led to their decision to retire, but it also made it nearly impossible to sell the restaurant, according to George.
Chim said she was shocked when she learned earlier this week that the Totos would be closing up shop. When she purchased the building, Chim said she intended to adhere to all the previous promises made with the previous owner. When the Totos lease expired in July, she instructed her property manager to offer a one-year lease.
“It was very sudden to me,” she said about hearing the news the cafe would be closing. “I always assumed they would keep operating.”
George says they likely would have continued operating the cafe for a little while longer, but the lease issues led to a decision they had been mulling for some time.
“We just knew it wasn’t going to work,” Ellen added.
When the Wildflower Café opened its doors on Dec. 21, 1984, it aimed to fill a void in the community — mainly the lack of a breakfast and lunch spot, Ellen said. Over the years other businesses came and went, but the Wildflower remained.
“We have people who come up from Sacramento just to have lunch,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful run.”
Count Geoff McGilvary among the throngs of dedicated, and now devastated, customers.
“It’s the end of an era, they’ve been here 34 years,” McGilvary said. “It’s sad to hear they’re closing. This has been a community place for locals. It’s been great to come and talk to George and Ellen and see friends. It’s a loss not to have anymore.”
While she has not been in the community for nearly that long, Chim also said she will miss the Wildflower.
“As a customer I’m going to really miss the place, and even as a property owner I wish (George) didn’t make that decision but basically I do understand,” she said.
As for any memories that standout, Ellen remembered how after her daughter was born she would sit in her carrier at the end of the counter.
“It’s so surreal,” Ellen said. “It’s just the whole experience of being a part of this town and having so many wonderful people come through our lives. … We’re going to miss it.”
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