BAE Interview: Village Pantry
Every morning without fail, Julie Ogilvie arrives at Village Pantry at 5:30 to start preparing breakfast. “I come in, and I lock the door,” she begins, “so no one can come in and bother me, and I cook. I concentrate on my food.”
Without any food delivery trucks or industrial freezers to provide assistance — and without much of a desire for either — Julie prepares all of the items off of her breakfast and lunch menu from scratch. She starts serving at seven o’clock, catering to both loyal clientele and fellow business owners alike (restaurants and retailers). She also smiles as she recalls the more illustrious customers she’s served, including Tom Hanks, Sundar Pichai, and Shirley Temple (Julie immediately notes she was a “regular customer”).
“They know my food is good,” she laughs, as we sit in the shady back patio of their diner, surrounded by foliage and open air.
While some celebrities might pop in to grab a nice (and semi-anonymous) breakfast at Village Pantry, other locals are also faithful to patronizing Village Pantry. Chef Chu for instance, owner of the eponymous “Chef Chu’s” in Los Altos, routinely stops by for an early breakfast: avocado club and pancakes for his son and grandson, as Julie describes. That particular ritual has continued, even as the pandemic has put Village Pantry under stress like never before. “85% of my base customers are retired,” Julie explains, “and they’re so scared to go out. Their families won’t let them.”
Village Pantry has also been hit by the recent street closures, with car access more difficult than it once was. David, Julie’s husband and biggest supporter, explains that the drop in business — both before and after the street closures occurred — has to do a lot with growing confusion and a shift in routines. “People’s lives are changed now, so it’s more difficult,” he explains. “Lots of things we normally did before, we aren’t doing anymore. You’re finding new ways to live your life.”
Thankfully, there has been some respite from street closures, and a promise for more normalcy, with the opening of the back patio. Julie, thanks to her landlord’s generosity, now has access to a backyard patio where she can serve customers. She notes that “at first, I could only use this patio on Saturdays and Sundays. He lets me have it the whole week now.”
Even though Julie has had some much-needed moments of luck, she tells us that the situation is becoming more and more desperate the longer they go on. “Right now, we are open — and we might look okay, but we just don’t have enough money to pay the rent… it’s really difficult, and it hurts us. I work every day for 14 hours — it’s mentally tiring, and physically too,” she sadly explains. “I keep doing it because I have lovely customers, and because we don’t just want to go away.”
Julie describes the customers she has had the joy of serving over the years as “family,” and describes how some have even called in to check in, even if they cannot get to the restaurant physically. “They often call,” she explains, “and they ask me, ‘How are you doing? Are you okay?’” Some have also supported Village Pantry by donating or buying gift certificates, including Chef Chu himself. “We’re so thankful for everyone’s support and kindness to us,” David remarks.
Still, in these challenging times there are many obstacles that remain. Julie continues, “I’ve put all my savings into this place, everything.” Still, she remains steadfast. In the face of mounting bills, she says, “I don’t complain. I just do my job.”
When asked about hopes for the future, Julie simply hopes for the time when a vaccine lessens fear enough for her clientele to return. Still, she knows that the future of her business rests with young people and families returning. When that happens, both on a political and social level, is still murky, but both Julie and David agree that a vaccine must come first before they begin to recover lost clientele. “We just have to wait,” David remarks. “We have to wait it out. But the question is, how long can we wait? If this continues the rest of the year, it’s going to be really difficult for us.”
In spite of all Village Pantry has gone through in the past 4 months, both Julie and David remain resilient, having run this restaurant for over 2 decades. They have been written up in countless publications over the years, over their food and welcoming atmosphere.
“In the beginning, I really loved work, and I loved people,” she explains, detailing her motivations for opening a business on her own terms. Over time, David continues, “children who used to eat here when they were younger now bring their children.”
“3 generations!” Julie interjects, pridefully.
Julie’s scruples and attention to quality is just as sound as her connections with her customers. David speaks admiringly of how devoted Julie is to good food, telling us how she periodically goes to farmers markets to buy everything she cooks, down to the butter and potatoes. “She does it all. She personally goes shopping, and buys it all.”
Julie simply replies, “I just want my customers to get their money’s worth, and have some good food.”
Even in these difficult times, quarantine and all, there are still ways to support Village Pantry — while a donation helps, a nice breakfast can also work wonders. We personally recommend coming downtown to take in the outdoor dining scene at the restaurant itself is best, but takeout — even if unorthodox — is also a great privilege. As Julie puts it, “We make such good hash browns, you can take them home!”
184 2nd St, Los Altos, CA 94022
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