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North Washington Street bistro puts community first

December 21, 2004|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Tari's Caf owner Tari Hampe-Deneen remembers standing outside the building on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 and making the deal to purchase it.

"The former owner didn't want to upset the ladies living upstairs, so I didn't even get to look it over," she said. "The deal was to allow the ladies to rent the apartments upstairs for as long as they wanted, which I did."

A bar, restaurant, inn and art gallery on North Washington Street, Tari's Caf opened in April 1989. Hampe-Deneen said she was the cook for the first 10 years. She said she has excellent culinary graduates cooking now, but still cooks about 20 percent of the time.

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Hampe-Deneen has a "three-taste rule," and she is one of the tasters.

"We have standardized recipes of my creation that all the cooks prepare." She said she tries to avoid the request for "only Tari's cooking."

Her family moved to Berkeley Springs when she was 12, but Hampe-Deneen was born on a farm in Pennsylvania and said she learned about farm-based food as a kid.

The family grew fruits and vegetables and canned them for the winter. They raised farm animals and smoked meats. Her mother was the baker in the family, she said.

Everyone had a role - she and her sister tended the garden and did the canning, while her father and brothers hunted and learned how to cure meats.

Before settling in the area, her family also lived in Chincoteague, Va., where she learned about crabs, oysters and other seafood.

"We had a crab pot on every day," she said. "All my life I've loved food. My house was always a restaurant."

Both she and her 77-year-old father, "Squirrel," have gardens and they grow vegetables for the restaurant. Hampe-Deneen said she grows and uses the herbs from her year-round greenhouse garden.

Tari's is a family of employees, both literally and figuratively. Day shift line cook, and Hampe-Deneen's nephew, Shawn McCelroy has been working at Tari's since the age of 12, she said. Her husband, Lovey Deneen, helps wherever he's needed, and other family members have worked there over the years.

Tari's is open seven days a week with 54 employees. Seven staff members have been with the restaurant for more than 10 years, she said.

"They are loyal and dedicated employees." All the employees have "special gifts and talent that adds to our mix," she said, adding that they take care of each other.

Laura Smith, a part-time hostess, said a lot of giving goes on behind the scenes. When Smith's husband died, she said, employees were supportive and helped her through it. When she came to work on the anniversary of her husband's death, a large arrangement of flowers was waiting for her in the restaurant.

"You feel like it's your family. Even if something happens in a customer's family, Tari is there for support," Smith said.

Last August, Hampe-Deneen learned part-time dishwasher Mike "Hooty" Unger, a college student, lost financial assistance and was without money to return to school. Jumping to the rescue, Hampe-Deneen held weeklong fund-raisers to provide the money that Unger, who has worked there for five years, would need for this year's college expenses.

Tari's Caf sold tickets for the "Dinner With Your Pet" event, for which the diners ate outside the caf. The pet had a choice of a hamburger or pet chow.

She sponsored a "ribs and crab feed" at her home and sold tickets to the event, and she also had "I'm Keepin' Hooty in School" posters made, which she sold to restaurant customers.

Hampe-Deneen said several thousand dollars were raised. "Customers and employees really rallied for that one because there was little time left to raise the money," she said.

Hampe-Deneen said the most fun in fund raising was the Morgan County Public Library event in April 1997. A walk-a-thon with a twist started the daylong event at the Widmyer Elementary School track.

"People pledged money per lap for unusual stunts around the track," she said. Hampe-Deneen faced two challenges. First, she had to push her husband around the track in a wheelbarrow while wearing high heels, and second, she had to walk around the track backward carrying a tray of drinks on her head without a spill, also while wearing high heels.

Since the fund-raiser was on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, Tari's Caf that evening hosted a "Titanic Dinner," and the last meal served on the ship was replicated, "right down to the fresh morels."

Hampe-Deneen said her husband found the morels in the woods.

People wore costumes and played various roles and more than $5,000 was raised, she said. A Titanic poster was auctioned off and raised a good amount of money, Hampe-Deneen said. "The person who bought it donated it to the restaurant, and it's hanging on the wall."

Hampe-Deneen said the best part of raising money for the community is the "tremendous support of my staff. They are always ready and willing to pitch in and help. They also understand the concept of giving back to the community."

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