Peoplewatching and hotcakes Hillsdale Collegian
“When you walk down North Howell Street late on a Friday or Saturday evening, one patch of windows on the storefront illuminates the dark street. Peek inside, wandering wayfarer. Youu2019re welcome, and theyu2019re open all night.
Itu2019s just after 9 p.m. on Friday at the Palace Cafe, a diner wedged into a storefront in downtown Hillsdale. Thirteen booths, 11 bar stools, and a couple tables line the floor of the restaurant, inviting friends and strangers in for a coffee, a meal, and a conversation. Over the next nine hours, this greasy spoon will welcome nighttime regulars and curious newcomers as friends.
The night begins with a cup of hot coffee (two creams, no sugar), and an ice water, please.
Two customers settle into a booth, halfway between the kitchen and the register. Theyu2019ll have a basket of chicken strips, a ham-and-cheese sandwich, and two plain cheeseburgers to-go. At half-past 9, a family clambers through the front door, and the six of them gather around a long table tucked in the back corner of the room. Now that the early crowd has assembled, Kim and Dan, the couple who run the show, make their entrance.
Back in the kitchen, Reagan scrapes the grill with a wide metal spatula. Sheu2019s 19, and sheu2019s only been working the Friday and Saturday overnight for a month and a half. Itu2019s just her in the kitchen on these nights, so she handles the rushes single-handedly, ma
ing two big grills to flip burgers, fried eggs, and pancakes.
A bell rings out over the clatter of the kitchen just as Kim ties her apron behind her back, joking with the table of six about her tardiness: u201cIu2019ll wait on you if you wait on me,u201d she laughed.
After scribbling six orders onto her pad of guest checks, she turns to the couple in the booth to greet Debbie and Larry Kendell, who are there for di
er, just like they always are on the weekends.
u201cWeu2019ve got lots of good friends here. People who we care about,u201d Debbie Kendell said.
For this Hillsdale couple, life hasnu2019t been easy, and the Palace is a place of refuge. Larry grew up in the foster system, living in a state house in Coldwater, Michigan, just a town away. He moved to Hillsdale before he reached legal adulthood to live alone. But on a cold Michigan night 35 years ago, he went to Broad Street and happened on Debbie, homeless, and wearing nothing but tattered shorts and a tank top. The next day, they were engaged. The day after that, married. Thirty-five years later, theyu2019re still together.
u201cTomorrow is our a
iversary,u201d Debbie said.
As the couple finishes their di
er, they catch a few moments with Kim, who leans against the high back of their booth to check in. She knows them u2014 not just their faces and names, but their stories. Kim teases Debbie about her temper, and reminds Larry that heu2019s got a strong woman. The couple says goodnight, and heads out the door.
By the time Kim pours the second cup of coffee at 11 p.m., the crowd has grown to seven. A college kid chats with his parents and another student, some locals bite into a late-night snack, and a few more students load up on cheap, greasy eats.”