Michigan’s Best Local Foods: Nena’s Cooper Cafe offers creative specialties and favorites


KALAMAZOO COUNTY, MI – “We’re all about unity here, about spreading love and joy and being there for each other,” said Christina McDowell-Norris, owner of Nena’s Cooper Coffee.

“You are part of the family as soon as you walk through the door.”

Family is what led McDowell-Norris to buy the cafe, located in Cooper Township at 7759 Douglas Avenue, six and a half years ago.

“I grew up in it,” she said, speaking of the industry as a whole.

McDowell-Norris’ grandfather and uncle ran the popular BJ catering and events center for decades in Gaylord.

Raised in this restaurant, which was established as a child, McDowell-Norris began working in the industry at the age of 16 and has worked across the country.

Ten years ago she started working at what is now Nena’s Cooper Cafe, and when the previous owner decided it was time to quit, she knew there was no no choice but to step in and take control.

“We’re just a small family restaurant trying to maintain community camaraderie,” she said. “I haven’t even gotten my first salary yet and I’ve been here for six and a half years working almost every day of my life. My goal is to keep this essential community alive.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen and I’ve been doing this for 35 years all over the United States. The brotherhood and camaraderie and the love and support of the community here is indescribable.

The ratio of regulars to other customers is around four to one at Nena, and while talking about his love for the restaurant, McDowell-Norris calls many guests by name, wishing them a great day, asking questions about family members and birthdays and whether she will see them at Thanksgiving.

As the restaurant skips for lunch and breakfast seven days a week, on Thanksgiving Day, as is tradition at Nena’s, McDowell-Norris and her husband, Martin Norris will cook more than a dozen turkeys and serve their regulars and any other members of the community who walk around. walk through the doors for free from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The seventh annual free Thanksgiving dinner, which is served only on-site, will include fresh turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, salad dressing, yams, cranberry sauce, corn, a roll and a slice of pumpkin pie. The restaurant will be closed the rest of the day.

“I’m doing this because it’s my thank you to everyone,” said McDowell-Norris, who also has another reason for hosting the annual meal.

“I pray every year to be here for this person who needed us to be here and every year someone revealed to me without even knowing what they were doing that ‘you are, you are why I’m here ‘” she says. “That’s my goal. That’s why we’re doing this.

When it’s not Thanksgiving, Nena’s is known for its home-cooked meals on Wednesdays, like meatloaf and fries, as well as creative weekend dishes that range from cookies and creme pancakes to bread. lost stuffed with carrot cake, bacon cheeseburger or supreme pizzas. omelets.

Restaurant lunch staples include a nice selection of burgers, the Melting Patty on Rye, the Buffalo Chicken Wrap, the Chef’s Salad with Texan Toast, Chili, as well as the Cast Iron Rib Eye. Momma Linda, named after McDowell-Norris’ late mother, who came up with the recipe just weeks before she died in 2021.

Popular breakfast items include the breakfast burrito, cinnamon pancakes with homemade frosting, plus more than a dozen omelets and traditional egg, meat, and cheese offerings.

The pancakes are so large that they hang over the edge of a standard plate and require a special plate-sized spatula to flip them, McDowell-Norris said.

The cozy and affordable restaurant seats 90 people when full and has a horseshoe bar where diners can sit, as well as two rooms with tables, some of which come from the grandparents’ restaurant by McDowell-Norris.

Those who have been to Nena’s in the past may have occasionally heard live music. While it doesn’t happen regularly anymore, those who come in — especially if the restaurant extends its opening hours for Friday dinners — may be treated to live bluegrass while they eat.

They can also enjoy a train, running nonstop around the upper perimeter of the restaurant, once its engine has been repaired, McDowell-Norris said.

Nena’s doesn’t have a traditional website, but does have a Facebook page, which the company updates frequently with special offers and other events. Nena’s is open 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, visit the Facebook page or call 269-383-2960.

Also on MLive:

All Michigan Restaurants Featured in “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Wild Ginger offers an array of Asian dishes, including homemade spring rolls and dumplings

Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Dog & The Bank offers fine dining in a unique setting in Plainwell


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