Cafe aims to anchor neighborhood

Owners hope coffeehouse will be gathering spot for Columbia residents

Restaurant profile

October 18, 2001|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As you enter the Blue Cow Cafe, your arrival is announced by the clang of a cow bell hanging over the door. "That's the same bell my parents used to call me to dinner when I was a kid," said Mark Blue, who owns the cafe with his wife, Karen.

A quick glance around the room reveals more than a dozen ceramic and stuffed cows of all sizes, lounging on countertops and pinned to the walls. For 12 years, Karen Blue milked cows at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.

"I loved being outside and working with the animals. Cows are just big brown-eyed babies," she said.

Combining their family's last name with Karen's love of cows resulted in the restaurant's name. The cafe, in the Thunder Hill neighborhood center in Columbia, opened Sept. 22.

"We're a natural coffeehouse, specializing in sandwiches, salads, soups, organic coffees and teas, and neighborhood conversation," Karen Blue said.

The cafe's design invites diners to relax and linger over books and magazines. Patrons are encouraged to borrow the reading materials and return them in a day or two.

Tables are stenciled with a blue-and-white checkerboard design. Checker, chess and tic-tac-toe game pieces are kept in bags near the tables.

It's a nice, safe place for kids to come after school or on weekends, Karen Blue said. "There's a real cute group of high school girls who don't see each other in class. They've been meeting here once a week, at 6 in the morning, for breakfast and to catch up."

Karen Blue moved to Thunder Hill when she was 3. She left home at 21, returning to her old community four years ago with her husband and her daughter, Shannon.

Shannon, 5, is in kindergarten at Thunder Hill Elementary School, the same school her mother attended. Karen Blue is a member of the Oakland Mills Village Board.

"I think Thunder Hill is a little piece of paradise in the middle of chaos. It's a tight community, and I knew it would be a great place to raise my kid," she said. "When I was growing up, the Oakland Mills Village Center was the gathering spot that brought the community together. Everybody knew everybody. I wanted to re-create that in Thunder Hill - where people could stop and catch their breath, have a sandwich or a cup of coffee, and catch up with their neighbors."

The cafe's menu is simple, offering a variety of sandwiches that include the Cowabunga Club ($5.99), stuffed with smoked turkey, ham and bacon on cheddar parmesan bread; the Cowardly Chicken Salad ($4.99), spiced with a hint of Old Bay Seasoning and served on Mountain White bread; and the Bulldacious Roast Beef ($5.99), rare roast beef topped with cheddar cheese, horseradish, lettuce, tomato and onion.

Daily soup specials have included tortellini, vegetable, butternut squash, smoked turkey, matzo ball, and macaroni and cheese. Soup is sold by the cup, by the bowl or in a bread boule.

Pastries are a big seller at the cafe. Thunder Hill resident Heidi Roosa bakes many of the treats.

In addition to cappuccino, espresso, cafe mocha and cafe latte, the restaurant offers seven coffee blends and eight types of tea. The tea leaves and coffee beans are organically grown.

Karen Blue credits family and friends in the neighborhood for giving the cafe a healthy start.

"It was a huge community and family effort," she said. "If it wasn't for friends and neighbors coming by to help with painting and plumbing, and my grandmother's financial help, we couldn't have opened. Even now, when we get really busy, neighbors step behind the counter to lend a hand."

Her husband added: "Through word of mouth from the community, we've gotten enough business to make a good start. We're looking forward to doing more."

Blue Cow Cafe

Where: 5134 Thunder Hill Road, Columbia; 410-772-8999.

Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Sandwiches, $1 to $5.99; soups, $2.75 to $5.10; salads, $2.75 to $5.50; pastries, $1 to $2.99.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard and Discover

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