1/15/2020 10:55:00 AM Waitress takes over coffee house
Wabash Coffee House former owner Chuck Eckert leaves it in the capable hands of new owner Ashley Newlin. The Eckerts started the antique shop and coffee house 10 years ago, and just before the new year sold the destination restaurant to waitress Ashley Newlin and her husband Neal. (Tom Compton photo)
An award-winning restaurant and destination site is changing ownership after 10 years in business.
The Wabash Coffee House in Hutsonville changed owners last month as former owners Charles "Chuck" and Jackie Eckert turned over the keys to Ashley and Neal Newlin.
"It could not be in more capable hands," said Chuck Eckert.
For those unfamiliar with the story of the Wabash Coffee House and Big River Antiques, it all began t10en years ago. Chuck and Jackie both took early retirement from State of Illinois jobs in Springfield, where they had lived for the past 20 years. They were already in the antique business and wanted to open a store in Chuck's hometown of Hutsonville.
"It had always been on my bucket list to one day have a business in Hutsonville," Eckert said.
The couple bought the old glazed block building at the corner of Main and Clover in 2009. They fixed it up to accommodate antiques and give shoppers and local residents a place to sit down and have a cup of coffee and dessert. Chuck's parents, Charles Sr. and Judy Eckert, ran the day-to-day operation with Chuck and Jackie coming down on weekends for the first couple of years.
As the novelty and atmosphere of the little shop grew, so did its menu. Countertop appliance were added to facilitate a simple breakfast and light lunch menu with daily specials.
In 2012 they more than doubled the size of the building to accommodate more antiques, and upgraded the kitchen, but as the restaurant business grew more tables were added and the antiques became purchasable decorations.
In 2013 a Terre Haute TV station created a viewer-nominated award for area restaurants, and the coffee house won for its Pecan Praline pancake.
Eckert credits quality staff over the years for much of their success. The coffee house has provided employment to more than 40 different people the past 10 years. And one of them took a special interest in the business.
Ashley Newlin came to work at the coffee house about five years ago. She started as a fill-in waitress while another was on maternity leave.
"I am a people person," Newlin said. She started waitressing out of high school and sold cell phones for a while. After the birth of her twin daughters, she missed being around people. Throwing in the long hours that her husband, Neal, worked as an owner operator of an excavation and field tile business, left Ashley longing for more.
"I did not want to take someone's job," Newlin said. But Chuck and Jackie saw the potential in her, so they kept her on as a waitress. When they considered selling the business, Newlin quickly came to mind.
Newlin said she is looking at ways to expand the business by being open more hours. She has other ideas, but will wait and see how the first year holds up. "I like what I do, and I look forward to growing the business," she said.
Over the years it has continued to be a popular destination spot for breakfast, lunch and Friday evening supper. They estimate that 30 to 40 percent of their business comes from Indiana. And local customers are family.
"I have reconnected with people and made a lot of new friends," Eckert said.
Getting to know people has also been important to Ashley. Many of their customers are elderly and come in every day for coffee, breakfast, to visit with friends and even stay on for lunch. "When we lose one it is like losing family," said Ashley.
Lifelong Hutsonville resident Pat Woolverton is one of those who stops in nearly every day. "It has brought a lot to the town, before there was nothing," she said.
Mayor Tina Callaway is also pleased to see another young couple taking over a business in Hutsonville.
"Businesses like the coffee house and Alluring Salon, owned and operated by young people, is what is needed to grow a community," said Callaway.
"Chuck and Jackie will also be missed," Callaway said. "The Trees on the River were their brainchild and they were the ones to first get it organized. They also helped to expand the annual River Fest activities."
Chuck was also involved in the construction of the new Hutsonville Fire Station.
Newlin said they are looking to expand the kitchen; there are several things they can't cook or do as it is. They have added a new steam table and spent from the day after Christmas until their reopening on Jan. 7 cleaning, remodeling and getting things ready.
"There were a lot of late nights, and the kids often fell asleep on the floor," Newlin said.
With Hutsonville having a beauty shop, grocery store, library, post office and bank all with in a block of each other, the coffee shop makes a very nice addition.
"The town has so much potential," said Eckert. "The highway and bridge, and the Wabash River, you can do so much."
The plan is to be open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday with supper specials from 4 p.m. on. Newlin said one of the things they are looking at is being open on Monday and Tuesday evenings for supper. "A lot of people come home from work on Mondays after a bad day and just don't want to cook."
Chuck and Jackie plan to keep in touch with Hutsonville even though the plan to spend more time in Springfield where they have lived for 32 years. "My family is still here," he said.