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Café 100 strives to make customers feel like they have a piece of the pie.

by OLIVIA GRIDER | photos by STEVEN STIEFEL

Café 100 has been open less than two years, but owner Wes Higgins knows his loyal customer base so well he can predict what many of people who come through the door will order and where they’ll sit. Several customers eat at the restaurant multiple times a week. It’s a sign the young entrepreneur is meeting one of his main goals. “We want people to feel a little bit of ownership,” Higgins explains. “Like it’s their spot.”

The awards the downtown Fort Payne restaurant quickly racked up are another positive indicator: Best Place to Take Guests in DeKalb County, Best Cook, Best Deli Sandwich and Best Business Lunch, all determined by votes from the local newspaper’s readers.

Higgins, who attended the culinary program at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, describes the menu as “upscale casual.”

He likes putting a creative, non-traditional spin on traditional dishes. This philosophy is apparent in the restaurant’s range of soups, sandwiches, pastas, vegetables and signature dishes like tomato pie, chicken salad and butter pecan muffins.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]…

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[/s2If] [s2If is_user_logged_in()]Meatloaf comes with a creamy cheese sauce on top instead of ketchup, and hamburgers are served on a fancy bun with gourmet cheese.

Higgins started the restaurant with high school friend Seth Sharp, who now runs the Turtle Grill at Terrapin Hills Country Club in North Fort Payne. Sharp and Higgins bought the business on a Friday in September 2011 and redecorated, changed the menu, restocked and began serving customers 48 hours later.

Café 100’s most popular dish, by far, is the tomato pie filled with fresh garden tomatoes layered with crisp bell pepper, parsley and green onions, piled high in a homemade pie crust and topped with a crunchy layer of shredded cheddar cheese. People often come by just to purchase whole tomato pies.

The chicken salad, another favorite, is made from Higgins’ grandmother’s recipe. Fresh apples, celery, chopped pecans, mayonnaise and a drizzle of honey mixed with tender, all-white chicken make this the perfect summer snack.

Sandwiches on the menu are altered versions of Higgins’ favorites from the eight restaurants he worked in before opening Café 100.

Wes__inside_Cafe_100Upscale casual also is a fitting description of the restaurant’s setting and decor. Located in a century-old brick building on the corner of First Street West and Gault Avenue – Fort Payne’s main thoroughfare – the striped awning, understated sign and faux-painted walls are elegant contrasts to the fun, black-and-white-checkered flooring, patterned table cloths and indoor arbor. “I love where it’s at,” Higgins says.

Open for lunch every day except Saturday, the restaurant draws customers who work at banks, the county courthouse, lawyers’ offices and other downtown businesses.

While the clientele is 95 percent local, Higgins says he can see a reflection of increased tourism in the area through Café 100’s customers. On an average Thursday in mid-summer, for example, patrons hailed from Steele, Ala., Atlanta, North Carolina and Israel.

Higgins’ father owned the first restaurant to operate in the building, back when Fort Payne boasted a thriving textile industry. On an average day, his dad would serve 120 customers, many employees of local sock mills. Now, Café 100 serves 60 people on an average day and 80 on a good one.

Still, the restaurant is doing well, and Higgins has expanded into catering. He is already busy most weekends with events ranging from church dinners to community festivals like Fort Payne’s Third Saturday. The catering business has served everything from beef Wellington to pintos and cornbread. And Higgins couldn’t be more content. “I enjoy every day of it,” he says. “It’s not work for me. It’s fun.”

Wes Higgins, owner of Café 100, describes the restaurant’s food as “upscale casual.”[/s2If]