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From history teacher to cafÈ owner

Kate Hayes is the new owner of Jill’s Country CafÈ; or, as she is starting to call it, Kate’s Country CafÈ. Hayes bought the restaurant in July, making a career change from chairwomen of the St. Mary’s High School social studies department to business owner and occasional short order cook.”I’ve taught history for 22 years,” Hayes said. “It was time for a change.”Hayes is not new to owning a business – she ran a horse riding school in Chicago before moving to Falcon five years ago. She’s not new to the Country CafÈ either, having been a long time customer.She has always been captivated by the restaurant’s charm, she said. “I told Jill I wouldn’t change it. I would keep the rancher atmosphere and the folksy, homey feel.”There are some subtle changes, though. The south wall of the restaurant has been transformed into a mural, painted by one of Hayes’ former students. It depicts a wagon train moving west through the open prairie.Hayes said she is using Jill’s recipes but is slowly changing some of the names of the dishes and adding touches of her own.”I’m keeping all the good that Jill created, but tweaking it a bit to make it my own,” Hayes said.She said she is grateful for a good cook who prepares most of the dishes – and she admits that her favorite part about the restaurant is not the food. “I like the people and being out front talking with them,” she said.Hayes makes it a point to learn her customers’ names and get to know them. “It’s fun to see all the different people that come through – each has a story,” Hayes said. “That’s where (owning a restaurant) is similar to history, because it’s about stories.”As Hayes has gotten to know the community, she sees an opportunity to provide a Christmas dinner for people who would otherwise spend the day alone or without a meal.Plans for a free Christmas dinner Dec. 24 are under way, Hayes said. It will be a sit down, full service meal, and she said she expects to feed 50 people.Working with Jean Woolsey from High Plains Helping Hands Food Pantry to identify people who could benefit from the meal, Hayes said she also wants to reach out to anyone who is alone for the holidays and invite them to join in their feast.”It’s not just if you have a hole in your pocket, but also for those with a hole in their heart,” she said.Hayes is donating ham and turkey and coordinating donations of prepared dishes like potatoes, rolls and vegetables. She is also working with a group of children to sing Christmas carols, and she said some of her customers have volunteered to play the guitar during the meal to add to the Christmas spirit.She’s thought of nearly everything to make the dinner accessible and is organizing volunteers to provide transportation to the cafÈ.”I want to make it easy for people to do something nice,” Hayes said. She hopes this is the first of many Christmas dinners at her cafÈ.In addition to being a new restaurant owner, Hayes said she loves history, horses, kids and nature. She brought two horses with her from Chicago and began running them with cattle. Hayes said she hopes to get into the cattle business someday.While she waits, Hayes and several of her friends volunteer with Art Gallegos, one of the few full time ranchers in the area. Hayes said when they started, there were lots of good-natured jokes about Gallegos’ female help. She said they worked hard not to look like sissies.”We’d go out and ride no matter what, no matter the weather,” Hayes said. Their dedication earned their group the nickname “Art’s Angels.”Riding with cattle is thrilling, she said. “It’s amazing to ride a cutting horse. They can feel what cow you want through your body and you don’t have to do anything. It’s a rush to know you’ve done a good job.”Hayes said she grew up watching westerns on T.V. and feels lucky to have found a piece of the Old West still in existence. After a hard day’s work, she and her friends will relax with a barbeque under the stars. “It’s pretty romantic stuff,” Hayes said. “Old Colorado is still here, and it’s fun to be a part of it.”

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