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Windy Tree Caff known for hot beef sandwiches

jean caspers simmet

Date Modified: 10/07/2009 11:11 AM

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Name: Windy Tree Caff

Owners: Ken and Theresa Smith

Location: 101 East Main, Riceville, IA 50466

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Known for hot beef sandwiches. "Our beef is so tender that it just falls apart," said Theresa. "We serve hot beef every day."

"We only use Choice or better beef," said Ken. Cost of a hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy is $5.

Contact them at (641) 985-2771 or

RICEVILLE, Iowa -- Theresa and Ken Smith started catering as a hobby a number of years ago, and their Windy Tree Catering has grown into a full-time business that often requires the help of the couple's five children, the spouses of their two married children, and Theresa's sister and her husband.

Windy Tree Caff on Highway 9 grew out of the catering business.

Elwood Pettitt's sister, Donna Dawson, approached the couple in 2004 about buying the building. Pettitt ran a popular Riceville cafe for many years.

"We needed a certified kitchen for the catering business, and we really had no intention of opening the cafe when we first bought the building," Theresa said.

"People wanted a place for breakfast, and so in Feb. 2005 we opened Windy Tree Caff," Ken said.

A caff is a small inexpensive coffee house or restaurant with a counter and stools. Ken first heard the word when he was on the East Coast.

"It's a conversation piece," he said of the name.

Ken works full-time for Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance, but is behind the grill on Saturdays. He assists with the catering business before and after work and on weekends. Theresa worked as a DHIA milk tester, but things got so busy with the restaurant and catering that she retired a year ago.

Windy Tree Caff serves breakfast until 11 a.m. when lunch specials are ready. Each day there is a main special and a soup and sandwich selection.

"We make lasagna, meat loaf, chicken pot pie, pork loin, country fried steak and goulash," Theresa said. "There's no set menu, but during Lent we serve fish every Friday."

The menu includes eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, French toast and biscuits and gravy for breakfast. The lunch menu consists of a variety of sandwiches and salads. Pie, malts and ice cream are among the dessert offerings.

Theresa runs Windy Tree Caff with the help of a full-time cook, who happens to be her daughter-in-law, Nicole, and a full-time waitress.

The Smiths always serve wheat toast unless someone requests white, and they use zero trans fat cooking oil.

"We try to cook healthy," Ken said.

The restaurant has a meeting room that seats 110, and it is frequently used for benefits and banquets. The Kiwanis Club meets on Thursdays, and there are several women's groups that meet regularly at the Caff.

The Smiths cater weddings, funerals, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, church dinners and company parties.

"About everything you can think of," Ken said.

Wind farm projects underway near Riceville have brought more business. Last year the Smiths sent a portable food trailer to the construction area northwest of town every day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Son Josh operated the trailer from May until December. A favorite menu item was Josh's double bacon cheeseburger.

Windy Tree has a take out menu, and many people order baked goods. Windy Tree bakes all the hamburger buns for Andy's Mini Mart in Riceville.