After 28 years, Meyers Downtown Cafe changing ownership
Barbara Ramsey remembers abruptly waking up at around 3 a.m. one morning in 1991 after having what she could only describe as a nightmare. The dream, she says, was that no one attended the opening of her and her husband Billy’s restaurant later that morning.
The Ramseys had put everything into Meyers Downtown Cafe, opening it “on a dime,” Barbara Ramsey said. If no one showed up, they would have been crushed.
“It was the scariest thing we had done up until that point,” she recently told the Tribune.
Fortunately for the couple, it was only a dream. When the Ramseys officially opened the restaurant’s doors they were inundated with customers.
“We were blessed with awesome customers from the beginning because we were fortunate enough to have known people in town,” Billy said. “But, we still had to serve a good product.”
Barbara and Billy had lived in South Lake Tahoe since the mid-1970s, each holding various positions in the food and beverage industry. It wasn’t until their children got older that they decided to take a leap and open their own business.
For 28 years, the Ramseys worked to establish Meyers Downtown Café as a community mainstay and by all accounts they succeeded.
The local mom-and-pop café nestled among the trees alongside U.S. 50 catered to a dedicated local crowd, with the restaurant’s focus on breakfast, lunch and community never wavering.
The Ramseys recently made the difficult decision to retire and sell the restaurant after nearly three decades in business. The family-owned establishment, which has employed all of the Ramsey’s children and most of their grandchildren at one point, has been located at 3200 U.S. 50 in the heart of Meyers since 1991.
“We had been talking about how it is always better to go out when you have your health versus being forced out,” Barbara said. “He’s (Billy) 71 and I’m 68 and it isn’t for any reason other than times are changing.”
As the South Lake Tahoe area grew and the business matured, the Ramseys stayed true to their beginnings, never accepting credit cards or using social media advertising. It is something they said began to cause friction with their younger customers.
But, that is why the “locals loved them,” according to Brittan Ramsey, Billy and Barbara’s daughter.
“They are very old fashioned and customers knew what to expect,” she said. “They were consistent for 28 years and it was a local’s only joint. When it really started to grow within the last 10 years we would have lines all the way around the building. But, most weren’t aware that we didn’t take credit cards and there were some hiccups there.”
Brittan credited the restaurant’s customers for helping the business succeed with that model. She said customers were more like family who, if the staff was busy, would get their own coffee or help clean a table.
“It was a team effort and Dad always recognized that, offering to pick up people’s coffee if they did step up,” she said. “This was a community effort. Mom and Dad put in all the effort. But, without the community, we would have never survived.”
The community recently returned their thanks to the couple at a retirement party in their honor. More than 75 people attended, including family members and old friends, such as Bob Novasel, who’s office has been located on U.S. 50 in Meyers since 1975.
Novasel has known Billy Ramsey since 1974. He said he’s sad they are retiring.
“That’s where I eat my lunch,” he said. “It was nice to be able to come and give Billy a hug and Barb a kiss and I’ll miss that.”
Marti Huntsinger, a former waitress, said Meyers Downtown Café has been a local staple. She commended the Ramseys for their dedication to the community, adding that she even met her husband, Joey, while working there.
“If it wasn’t for Billy and Barb we may have never met and we have been together for 16 years now,” she said. “It is going to be sad, but it’s actually fabulous because they have worked so hard and they deserve it.”
Barbara said she never envisioned that the café would end up being the place where relationships were formed and stories shared. It felt like a safe haven for the community.
When the Angora Fire ravaged the area southwest of the lake in 2007, Meyers Downtown Café became a gathering spot for many who were unable to return to their homes.
“No one got to go home,” Barbara said through tears. “They didn’t know if their dogs were alive or if their neighbors were. It was a place where people could come and share their stories. Those were the stories that happened here and we all cried together.”
It’s clear how emotional it is for the Ramseys to walk away from the place they poured their hearts into for nearly 30 years. Barbara said they cried as they signed the papers to sell the business to the new owner, Cara Mosedale.
And while they are both ready to close that chapter in their lives, they wanted to express their gratitude to the community for giving them so many loyal years.
“I hope people left happy and they enjoyed the café,” Billy said. “I’d like to think we made a lot of friends in this town and we are so blessed it turned out quite well. They were some scary times, but I knew I had the best partner in the world and the staff. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Barbara echoed her husband’s sentiment.
“I just want to thank everyone for helping us grow and sharing us,” she said. “To have a restaurant is hard enough. But, to pull it off with no social media was incredible. It was word of mouth by all the people that we grew to love in this town that helped us survive.”