For the Vanziles, running Heffer’s Kountry Café, at 603 S. Yonge St., is a family affair.
BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Call some people cows and they get all touchy and depressed. But others, like Judy Vanzile, make it their identity.
Vanzile opened Heffer’s Kountry Café, at 603 S. Yonge St., Feb. 6, 2003. And when it came to picking a name, she went with what she knew.
“A friend of mine always called me heffer,” she laughed, loud and happy, sitting at a table near the register. She shrugged. “And he’s still a friend.”
Vanzile founded the place, which serves breakfast and lunch, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day of week (until 1 p.m Sundays). But Heffer’s is not a one-woman show. Vanzile works with her sister, Debbie, and her two nieces, Christine and Sherry.
As a matter of fact, she does most things with her sister and nieces. She and Debbie are roommates. The four live within about a mile of each other. They go on vacations together.
And they’ve made Heffer’s last a decade together.
“Everybody does what needs to be done,” she said, dismissing the idea that one person would be the “owner” or “manager” of the restaurant. “Like I always say, ‘This is like an extension of our home.’”
And if that’s the case, Vanzile’s home must be a sight to see.
There’s barely a surface in Heffer’s that isn’t covered with cow stuff. Cow figurines in glass cases. Cow statues on shelves. Cow paintings. Cow lamps. Cow bells. Cows wearing dresses. Cows sucking on pacifiers. Cow kettles. Cow puns (“Udderly irresistible!”). Even cow-print curtains and drapes.
Vanzile has made her store the cow capital of Ormond Beach. And she’s created such an identity there that, from time to time, customers bring her an extra cow to make room for on the walls or counters.
And the branding has worked. With a down-home, “if you ain’t gonna eat it, don’t serve it” mentality, Heffer’s has amassed a cult of regulars, Vanzile says. She has a loyal group of customers who have been coming in since Day One, some every morning.
“They’re just my guys, you know?” she said, motioning to the rounded, corner table where her guys usually sit.
She even makes nicknames for her customers, she added. One of the Vanzile’s will yell into the kitchen, “Richard’s regular!’ and everyone knows exactly what she means. It’s all about creating a casual and comfortable atmosphere, she says. That's what keeps people coming back.
Another reason for the regulars, she speculates, is because, in 10 years, Heffer’s has only raised its prices one time — and only by a couple cents.
“I’m always worried,” Vanzile said. “They call me The Worrier. … Like, what if the bottom fell out? What if I opened the door and no one came in?”
That’s why Vanzile never says, “No.” You want pancakes instead of toast? You got it. And as for change, who needs it?
Growing up, Vanzile was the kind of kid who got Easy-Bake Ovens, soda machines and burger accessories for Christmas. She grew up working in restaurants. Her Italian mother owned a restaurant. Her family was in food.
So why stray from what’s working?
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do what everybody wants,” she said of catering her entrees toward the more health-conscious. Then she burst out laughing. “But you’re in a placed that’s called Heffer’s! You know, this is comfort food.”