Last November during a road trip, my husband and I stopped into a bright farmhouse styled restaurant called Stella Southern Cafe. We opened the door and our noses flooded with homemade biscuits and freshly roasted coffee. Our ears delighted on the sounds of eggs sizzling on the griddle and Hillsong playing through the speakers. We were greeted by a cheery young lady who recommended the Eggcetera to fit my vegetarian needs and The Rise & Shine for my husband's ravenous appetite. We instantly felt right at home. Since then, we have returned every two months or so.
This past month, I had the honor to sit with Chef Michael Lair and learn how Stella Southern Cafe came into existence.
Back in college, Michael Lair and his lovely girlfriend Stephanie would jump state to state, dining in various restaurants in his 1995 V8 Dodge Dakota, named “Stella”. They would dine together, feasting their palettes on a variety of cuisines from whatever region they found themselves in. With their love of food and one another, they decided to marry and sooner rather than later, Michael would ship off to the Empire state where he would attend The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
It was not long until he yearned for a good, old homemade meal from Texas, so his lovely new bride would mail tortillas straight from the Alamo Cafe located in San Antonio. It was a long and treacherous time for these two love birds but they kept their faith in the Lord and kept trucking along.
Upon graduation, Michael began working in some of the best restaurants around San Antonio and all the while, children began to come as did their first home. As 2012 approached so did Michael’s opportunity to take the helm at Harvey Washbangers, a struggling business that his parents had bought a while back and poured their hearts into. With Michael’s help, they turned it from surviving to thriving and that success got him thinking about what was next.
In July 2018, another long journey began to take form. What was once an idea to incorporate all the delicious and eclectic cuisines he and his wife dined on over the years in the truck, Stella; a menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner began to evolve. Over time, his customers explained, "Oh, you're going to serve breakfast?" when Michael added, "And lunch and dinner as well."
They applauded his ideas and reassured him on numerous occasions, breakfast was the way to go. The option for lunch and dinner soon diminished, and breakfast became the main focus.
It has been two successful years, and with three managers and roughly twenty five other staff members, Stella has gone through the wringer like most small businesses during Covid-19.
Michael’s quote, "The gut wrenching grind." is what brought them through this tough time. He opened the pantry to the staff members and scorched plans daily to fit the needs of his customers. Every day was a new idea and every night, something changed. Michael catered to the needs of his regulars and they in return, kept the doors open.
Though Covid-19 is still on the brink, Stella Southern Cafe is comforting folks around the table with home cooked meals and delicious coffee. Family, fellowship and food are what keep customers in the surrounding areas of College Station coming back and every once in a while, even those “Silly Houstonians”.