Katie Welborn is a 40-something who decided to indulge in a midlife crisis. Her recipe for changing things up in her life, injecting more joy and excitement? Creating a restaurant. Café 6three4 opened on June 8th, the name inspired by the McCall-area phone prefix.
“I’ve wanted to do this for twenty years, since I was in my twenties,” says Welborn. She had been working at St. Luke’s McCall Medical Center for the past ten years, in front-end positions such as patient registration or insurance/financial tasks. Yet she always had this dream swirling in her head, to create a space where people can break bread and share conversations, giving back to her community in that homespun way.
Welborn is married to Jeremy Welborn, an Idaho Power lineman. They met when both attended high school in Grangeville. In 1994, when Welborn was a senior, her parents moved the family to McCall. Jeremy followed, and in 1995 they married and began their lives together here. Their oldest daughter Krystan – now age 21 and a senior at Boise State University – was born in McCall, but soon after the Welborns moved to Washington state where Jeremy did his apprenticeship as a lineman. Their two sons – Justin, age 18 and on his way to University of Idaho, and Owen, age 13 – were born in Washington.
The Welborns returned to McCall in 2007 when Jeremy was hired by Idaho Power. “He made my dream come true,” says Welborn of her husband’s involvement in creating Café 6three4. Despite working full time, Jeremy has pitched in enthusiastically, helping turn the café’s space from derelict to delightful. He helps out on weekends and late nights after work. Indeed, the entire family is working at the café this summer: Krystan is the front lead, Justin works in the kitchen, and Owen helps wash dishes. Welborn’s sister Brittany was going to be her partner in running the café this summer, but she couldn’t resist the opportunity to be a wilderness ranger in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Welborn looks forward to working with Brittany at the café after October, but in the meantime, her other sister Morgan – a fulltime Forest Service employee – often helps Welborn at the café or hangs out there with friends.
Restoring a Building to Create a Welcoming Space
“I like the idea of taking something old and breathing new life into it,” says Welborn of the inspiration behind the Café 6three4’s décor. That sensibility also applied to the bones of the place.
“We wanted to retain the true feel of the building,” says Welborn. The 90-year-old structure may or may not be an original Stibnite house; Welborn hasn’t been able to determine with certainty. Its last occupant was the Dandelion used clothing store. It was worn and run down, looking sad and neglected, but that didn’t dissuade the Welborns. They saw it as an opportunity to create the space they wanted, their way. With just 800 square feet of interior space to work with, the kitchen is tiny, roughly 200 square feet, dictating how many food items the café can offer on their breakfast and lunch menus. For Welborn, it was the perfect size for realizing her dream.
The family set to work renovating the space. A deck off the side of the building was created from lumber salvaged from a wrecked-out deck; Jeremy planed it and their kids removed the old nails. The fence at the edge of the deck is made from old tin roofing scraps. Window frame trim is repurposed cedar picket fencing. For a section of interior wall where the restroom is, Jeremy recycled small pieces of scrap wood, the end result resembling a jigsaw puzzle. The whole family helped sand and re-stain the interior floor and stain the ceiling a darker, warmer tone. Tables are industrial style, some large ones for groups and some for individuals.
The building’s bones fortified, Welborn got creative with her repurposing in order to decorate the interior. She found an old John Deere tractor front that has been crafted into a countertop. An old bicycle that hangs from the ceiling just inside the front door was found online for $30. (It’s vintage and has a wire child or box carrier behind the seat; one can almost see The Wizard of Oz’s nasty Miss Gulch furiously pedaling in her dress with Toto hidden in a picnic basket on the carrier.) An old wooden ladder hangs horizontally from the ceiling along one side wall, holding other interesting artifacts and light fixtures.
Creating a Café
Given Welborn’s long-held desire to have her own café, I ask if she had previous experience working in one. “No! I just jumped in!” she responds with a laugh, adding that her father and sister are great cooks. “I’m better at creating space and entertainment.” The café’s menu is the brainchild of all three family members. “I’m strong with sandwiches and bowls. My sister’s strong with breakfasts.” Learning as she goes, Welborn is quick to work through any hiccups. For example, one ciabatta bread product was inconsistent so she moved to another.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for Welborn so far is how much customers want espresso. “I was thinking this would be more of a café than coffee house. I was trying to stay away from the sugary stuff, but people always ask for espresso so I’m looking into it.” The café does offer coffee and Rishi teas from DOMA Coffee Roasting Company of Idaho.
The one product offered by the café that makes it truly unique in town is Nitro cold brew coffees and teas. The coffee or tea is infused with nitrogen, which creates a creamy top and sweeter taste. “It’s been very popular,” says Welborn, who says she first saw the product when visiting DOMA in Post Falls. “Even DOMA is surprised how popular it is here. They thought I’d go through a five-gallon tank of nitrogen per week, but I’m going through one every two-to-three days. Some people come in just for the Nitro.” Noting that the Nitro drinks are cold, Welborn admits that by winter she might add an espresso machine to meet demand for hot coffee drinks.
Communal seating is intentional, Welborn says, because she hopes people will share tables and get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere. But there are individual tables for the introverts – like her father – as well. The café offers to-go items, but between Memorial Day and Labor Day they won’t take call-in orders. “With a kitchen the size of a food truck’s, we just can’t do it,” Welborn explains.
The café is open every day except Monday, with breakfast offered from 7:00 – 11:00 am, although Welborn now realizes that people want breakfast items all day. “They want eggs, and they each want them a certain way! I’m learning fast!” Welborn says with a laugh. The small kitchen, though, limits the number of items they can prepare, so they stop offering breakfast items after 11:00 am in order to make room for the lunch items.
Even with a good manager, Welborn is on site all the time, watching how things happen, making sure everyone knows her expectations. “I knew going in I’d be here all the time,” Welborn says. “It would be odd, otherwise. This is my passion, an expression of my thoughts and feelings. It’s my reputation on the line, our family’s last name; it follows us. I always tell our kids that. We’ll have some hiccups along the way, we’ll learn and get better.”
Welborn likes the idea of families being together at meals, talking about their day. That sense of gathering and sharing is what motivates her to create this small café where people – friends, strangers, family – can all hang out and have a sense of being part of a community. “I want people to be able to walk in, maybe have a mimosa with a friend, and enjoy a good experience in this environment,” says Welborn. She’s striving for a cozy, neighborhood feel, the antithesis to a strip-mall esthetic. “When I travel to towns like Missoula or Bend, I love finding the hole-in-the-wall places around the corner; I search for them,” says Welborn. She wants the café to be a place frequented by locals; tourists will be a bonus. “I’m not here for the money, I’m here for the happiness and giving back,” Welborn says. “My own little spot.”
When asked to describe the type of food offered at Café 6three4 (tag line “Good food, good people”), Welborn responds, “Simple but unique.” Breakfast items include the Idaho Waffle – the café’s most popular item – which is shredded potato with gruyere cheese created into a waffle topped with a sausage patty and the café’s own rosemary gravy. There are vegetarian and meat options on the menu. Lunch items include sandwiches and bowls (brown rice covered with various vegetables and/or meat and topped with a sauce) with names like Thai Me In a Bowl and the Tumbleweed Bowl (with chipotle sauce). For those seeking gluten-free food, the café can turn any sandwich into a lettuce wrap. There is a child’s menu, side salads and seasonal soups, and house mimosas and red beer.
Welborn figures the days and hours the café is open will fluctuate as she learns the ebbs and flows of demand. She envisions hosting special events – the café has a beer and wine license – where she can offer more baked goods that aren’t part of the usual menu. Music on the deck during the summer, maybe some poetry readings, writers’ groups…a little hideaway for locals is what she’s hoping to provide. And she’s aware that if she’s not careful, burnout could creep in, which is why the café closes at 3:00 pm and isn’t open Mondays. Welborn is thankful that already she has amazing staff beyond family members that will stick with her even when summer’s over.
Welborn’s short-term goal for the Café 6three4 is simple: make it through an entire year’s four seasons. Long-term, she says, “I want to make my kids proud, creating something that lasts, something their mom is happy doing, powering through it. It hasn’t been easy, dealing with taxes, workman’s comp; there’s lots to learn and figure out on our own. My daughter’s already a strong woman. This shows my boys that mom can do it, too. When I have my down days, my family is there for me. I’m truly blessed.”
Cover photo: A portion of the Cafe 6three4 sign hanging above the cafe’s counter. Photo: McCall Digest.