Viola opens community café that supports the military and the disabled

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Michelle Viola is owner, manager, cook, and greeter at the new Route 20 Café & Newsstand in Guilderland.

GUILDERLAND — The new owner-cook-manager of the Route 20 Café & Newsstand at Gipp Road hopes to make the place “not just a café, but part of the community.”

Michelle Viola’s professional background is in working with developmentally disabled adults. Before taking over and updating the newsstand, formerly known as the Westmere News & Variety, she worked for years with Living Resources, as manager of a day program that taught life skills.

A mother of three, her home in Altamont was always a place where her kids and their friends liked spending time, she said recently, adding, “We always had extra folks around.”

That’s the atmosphere that she hopes to recreate at the Route 20 Café. “I’m just very comfortable in the kitchen, and, when I came into this store, it seemed like it could be a comfortable place again,” she said of her decision to buy the café.

“We encourage people to come sit down with a cup of coffee and share their stories,” Viola said. She wants the place to be “like an extension of their home.”

Viola kept the newsstand that has been a local institution in that same spot since at least the early 1950s, but did some updating to the store and the menu.

She describes the menu as “a lot of home-style favorites.” The menu includes breakfast sandwiches such as the American Special, which has two fresh eggs, cheese, and choice of apple bacon, ham, turkey bacon, or sausage, with a cup of coffee included, all for $3.75. In addition to traditional deli sandwiches, the lunch menu includes “Hawgs-n-Dogs,” which is two all-beef hot dogs wrapped in apple bacon and topped with grilled onions, and “The Pilgrim,” tender sliced turkey served on a hard roll, with cranberry sauce and warm stuffing; those sandwiches are $6.50 each.

The oldest of Viola’s three children joined the Marines last year,  and Viola is becoming involved in activities that support the military, she said. For instance, she recently offered a free breakfast for volunteers, in hopes of drawing people into the café who would then go over to the Veterans Miracle Center on Interstate Avenue in Albany to help box up care packages for people in service deployed overseas.

This event, she said, brought in quite a few people to the café for the first time, including police officers and retired veterans, many from World War II. In the end, the event found a number of volunteers for that day, as well as some who decided to volunteer with the VMC on a regular basis.

Groups of the adults with whom she formerly worked sometimes “pop in and visit,” she said. Viola plans to start having a group from Living Resources pick up all of the café’s recyclable bottles and cans and to “donate the money to them.” That way, she said, “we can give them a job in the community.”

Viola and her husband are classic car collectors (“He’s a classic car enthusiast, which means I became a car enthusiast”). Each Sunday morning Viola hosts a Classic Car Cruise-In, offering half-priced breakfast sandwiches to anyone who comes in a classic car. She herself has a ‘56 Fairlane that she calls “The Pink Lady.”

Customers come from all over, Viola said, to support the store. Many telephone her afterwards to tell her “how amazing their sandwich was.”

People have been very supportive, she said, of seeing “a new owner, and new life, here.

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