Entrepreneurs

A sister by her side. A family behind her back.

It takes a will, skill, and family for two women running a cafe in the middle of rural Scotts. Yet the community is grateful they’ve taken it on, from the retired couple who offered them the chance, to their meat suppliers who are also regular diners.

[Publisher’s note: a few weeks after this story was published, Scotts Cafe’s owners were informed they needed to find a new location and suddenly shut their doors. They are scheduled to open in Richland in February.]

Blend the expertise of two sisters-in-law, one who enjoys cooking, the other adept at business management.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

A weekday morning email roundup of Kalamazoo stories and events.

Mix in a large, multi-generational family with a willingness to support and help work.

Top it with a popular restaurant that became available earlier this year when the owners retired.

It’s a recipe for success for the Scotts Cafe, an eatery in the middle of rural Scotts, between Climax and Pavilion townships in eastern Kalamazoo County, which caters to locals, occasional passers-by, and out-of-towners who don’t mind traveling a bit for a down-home breakfast or lunch.

After being closed for about a month this spring, the long-standing restaurant at 11011 Norscott Street reopened in May under the ownership of Josie Coburn Matrau and Bekah Coburn.

“Feeding people is just what I’ve always wanted to do,” says Matrau, 44, who grew up watching her mother and grandmothers cook, and started working in area restaurants when she was a teenager. She says it was always her dream to own a restaurant, and feeding people is her family’s legacy.

“The Coburn family has had a farm for years,” says Matrau, noting that her great-great-grandfather began working the farm in Scotts 150 to 175 years ago.

Coburn, 40, has a business background. She formerly worked in insurance and currently manages the Coburn farm; her husband’s business, Coburn & Sons Fleet Services; and now the cafe, which the sisters-in-law opened on May 7.

She also came from a farm family. Previously a resident of Olivet, she married Matrau’s brother, Matt Coburn, three years ago and moved to Scotts.

Coburn gained a partner in more ways than one. “She’s everything I’ve wanted in a sister,” says Coburn. The two even share the same birthday.

So going into business together seemed to be a natural thing to do.

Sisters-in-law Bekah Coburn, left, and Josie Coburn Matrau in their restaurant, Scotts Cafe.

“For over a year, whenever we came in, the former owners would say, ‘You guys should buy this place,’” Matrau says.

The sisters-in-law banded together to do just that, and their families rallied behind them. Matrau and her husband, Dan, have five children and 10 grandchildren, while Coburn and her husband have a blended family of 11 children and one grandchild. Add Matrau’s parents, Dave and Sally Coburn, to the mix and there are a lot of family members, many of whom help out at the restaurant.

“It’s just nice because it’s family,” Matrau says. “Even our (four) employees who aren’t family are like family.”

Since taking ownership of the cafe, the two women have made some changes, redecorating the space into a farm theme, and tweaking the recipes.

Many dishes on the menu are named for family members, like Ione’s Farmer’s Omelet, named for Matrau’s grandmother, Ione Coburn, the matriarch of the family who died in September.

Omelets are among the most popular items at the cafe, which is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. There’s such a demand, Matrau and Coburn recently had to limit the hours that omelets were available on weekends because they had a hard time keeping up with the orders.

“They love Josie’s omelets,” Coburn says.

Other favorites are the sausage gravy and the hamburgers, which have even gotten the approval of the cafe’s meat suppliers. Steve Oswalt, his daughter, Taylor Eaton, and his niece, Emily Foster operate Oswalt Family Farm in Vicksburg. They’re also regulars at Scotts Cafe and have been since the previous owners were running it.  

“It’s definitely our favorite business-meeting spot,” Foster says. “We were all mourning the closing of this place. We’re glad it’s still running.” “The burgers are fantastic,” Eaton says. “It’s a good showcase to represent our product.”

Steve Oswalt, Emily Foster, center, and Taylor Eaton are regular diners of Scotts Cafe. They also operate Oswalt Family Farm in Vicksburg, which supplies meat to the cafe.

To become even more of a farm-to-table restaurant, the new owners are building a greenhouse so they can grow their own produce.

The pair are also trying to determine how to use vacant lots they own on South 36th Street, which is within the same block as the restaurant. More parking for the restaurant or a farmer’s market are two ideas they’re floating around.

Matrau says they’re also thinking of establishing a food pantry at the cafe to help those in the community who are struggling to make ends meet.

“We try to do something for the community all year long,” Coburn says.

Each day they provide a place for neighbors to engage, and Matrau and Coburn say they love the camaraderie that exists when customers fill their cafe.

“One of my favorite parts is that everyone knows everyone,” Coburn says. “It’s like having your family over for Thanksgiving dinner.”

The average story costs NowKalamazoo $400 to produce. Donate to fund stories like this.