A Landscape Full of Stories > Toki Steele
“I hope they remember me – I was there. They say, ‘oh, I know her.’ I’m not particularly – what do you call? – just for business. I was there and talked to people. I hope they remember me, you know? Sometimes say hello to me, even though I cannot sometimes remember all those people. I loved them. I do love them. They come in different shapes and colors and whatever. Yeah, that’s it. Just being cook there for long time. So what do you remember me for?”
–Toki Steele (1941-2012)
An Excerpt from the Interview
NCSCC: So besides green tea, what did you have to eat for breakfast?
Toki: I ate what they call quinoa.
Toki: Quinoa, yeah. And then I ate the cottage cheese, flax seed oil mixture.
NCSCC: Wow, that sounds like a really healthful breakfast.
Toki: No, what I’m doing is I’m going through my lung and they find a little bit of spot. So I said I better do things myself. So that’s what I’m doing. And then I ate the thing, diet I’m taking. No wheat, no dairy, no meat, all those things. So it’s kind of drastic change for me but I like to stick with it if it’s benefit for me.
NCSCC: So let me just start with the really easy stuff. Tell me your name, your age and tell me your involvement with living here on the Ridge. I know that’s a long story, but tell me in a nutshell why you’re famous for being on the Ridge.
Toki: My name is Toki Steele. I’m 70 years old, and I own the restaurant for 39 years. I worked all day. I never had any sickness. I opened all by myself, and then my husband got sick so he was helping me. And I start hiring people to help me. That was great help. And we had good business.
NCSCC: 39 years in one location?
Toki: One location.
NCSCC: That’s pretty amazing.
Toki: Yes, it is. So I enjoyed it very much. Working, no problem. I think I can do it again. Yes.
NCSCC: Why did you decide to start a restaurant?
Toki: Why did I? I think it’s my ignorance. No, really. I didn’t know. I said, well, I just open up and then cook food. It was kind of very not thinking ahead. I just dive into it and we have good business to start with, 1971, and I didn’t know anybody. In fact, in Alleghany, they had a bet going they told me later. One group said no, she not going to make it. One group said yeah, she going to make it. So that kind of bit. So I made it, yes. It was times… it was pretty hard, but it’s joyful.
NCSCC: Did you always have your Okinawan menu items or what did you start with?
Toki: Yes. Well, no. First I didn’t start with the Okinawan menu. I had hamburgers, ham and eggs, milkshakes, all that stuff. And then one day I was cooking my own food to eat so I made yakisoba and a customer came to me, “what are you eating there?” I say, “yakisoba,” and I ask him, “would you like some?” He said, “Yes.” And then he said, “Put it on the menu tomorrow.” So that’s what I did, and I add more like teriyaki chicken, fried rice, gyoza and when my uncle came from Okinawa, he put on the sukiyaki. But when he left I quit because it’s too much ingredient, too much taking time. But it was pretty good. Everybody ordered it.
NCSCC: What’s the most popular item on your menu?
Toki: I think it’s yakisoba. Noodles. People likes noodles. It’s comforting food, yes.
NCSCC: I agree.
Toki: It has everything. You know, it’s fresh. Vegetable is fresh, and people don’t want to eat meat, I have tofu. Or they want beef or pork, whatever they want to ask me, I just give people what they want.
NCSCC: Was the restaurant always the same name as it is today?
Toki: Yes, it is.
NCSCC: And what is the real name of the restaurant? I’ve heard different things. I don’t know why.
Toki: Toki’s Fountain. I think the new owner put Toki’s Café, I think so. It’s beautiful sign though. It’s made from iron. Yeah, it’s beautiful. [Editor’s note: Toki’s Café has closed since the time of the interview, but the restaurant will be re-opening under new management in March 2013.]
NCSCC: So are you still involved?
Toki: No, not at all. It’s kind of once you leave, when you go back there, it’s not same. So I don’t go there too often. I do. I should stop by today on the way back. Yeah. Do you go there?
NCSCC: Not as much now that you’re not there to be honest. That was one of the big reasons I loved going there was talking to you at the counter.