Laura Kaelber and Ken Hallett ran Southside Cafe for 27 years. With an eclectic decor, the Route 9 location was a spot to pick up comfort food in the Town of Poughkeepsie.
But in October 2015, Kaelber died at 49 years old. Hallett, 57, died a year-and-a-half later. The sudden deaths of her mother and stepfather prompted Nikki Kaelber to close the restaurant.
“Ken really was the driving force behind the restaurant — it was his passion,” Kaelber said. “After he passed, we decided to shut down everything and figure things out.”
Yet Kaelber felt the urge to return to the restaurant business, both as a new start for herself and as a tribute to her mother and stepfather. On Wednesday, what would have been Laura Kaelber’s 53rd birthday, Southside Cafe was reborn as Laura’s Family Restaurant.Though the interior has been remodeled and the menu tweaked, guests will once again be able to visit 2585 South Road for comfort food.
“I wanted to make something that would honor them and also make it my own,” Nikki Kaelber said.
A paralegal of eight years, Kaelber, 30, said she didn’t want to continue the same line of work. The restaurant provided a new oportunity.
“I had also been bartending part-time, most recently at Schatzi’s,” she said.
Similar menu returns
Fans of Southside Cafe will be familiar with the menu at Laura’s Family Restaurant. It features many of the dishes featured at the original restaurant along with lighter fare, such as soup and salad combos.
And Carlos Hernandez, Southside Cafe’s chef, returned to work at Laura’s Family Restaurant.
“I reached out to Carlos to see if he would be interested in returning,” Kaelber said. “He was in a good place at the time, and he said, ‘If it was anyone else, I would say no. If you’re ready to go, let’s do this.'”Kaelber said she wants to offer quality food at prices competitive with local fast-casual chains. She acknowledged the number of high-quality restaurants that have opened in the region, but added that she wanted Laura’s to be a watering hole for locals.
“We don’t want to be the place for birthdays and special occasions,” she said. “We want to be the place you can come a couple times a week and not regret when you check your bank statement.”
Laura’s Family Restaurant was still waiting on its license from the State Liquor Authority Wednesday, but guests can still order food, Kaelber said.
The restaurant space has been remodeled, but it still reflects the Southside Cafe’s 1950’s Hollywood aesthetic. The casual spot can seat about 90 people.
For more on Laura’s Family Restaurant, visit facebook.com/pg/LaurasFamilyRestaurant.