When Palisades Cafe owner Rachel Sauter announced last year she planned to sell the downtown Mount Vernon restaurant, longtime fans jumped in to save it.
General manager Elizabeth Gibson said a couple who wish to remain anonymous have purchased the cafe but plan to keep the name the same.
"Their children don't even know. They're just doing this to keep this place open for everyone," she said.
The eatery is a mainstay in Mount Vernon. The location, at 117 First St. W, housed the Mount Vernon Cafe before Matt Steigerwald purchased it and opened the Lincoln Cafe in 2001. Sauter bought it and renamed it the Palisades Cafe in 2014.
"When Rachel decided to move on, we said, at the end of November, we're closing," Gibson said. "So I just started asking everybody I knew if they wanted to own a restaurant."
The response she got was indicative of the strong bond the town's residents have with the restaurant, she said. "A lot of our customers, they're kind of like family. We know their names, what they want," she said. "It's just a great sense of community."
Gibson and head chef Chris Henning are using the transition to unveil a few changes to the menu. Along with burgers and sandwiches, the restaurant previously had two daily specials, which rotated depending on what was in season. Now, they will have five to six specials at a time and have aimed to lower the price points for those specials - they're now in the $15 to $20 range instead of the $30 range.
"We started with the same business model as the Lincoln Cafe, but the specials didn't take off like we wanted to," Henning said. "Essentially, we were a burger joint."
He hopes the changes motivate customers to try to specials more often. They also wanted to offer more variety for regulars.
He started working at the Palisades Cafe two years ago and has been working in kitchens on and off since he was 14. He said he enjoys creating new dishes.
"I'll take a look at what farmers have to offer, and sometimes I think about what I feel like eating," he said. "There's no equation to it. You can find inspiration anywhere."
Along with more specials, the number of sandwiches and burgers on the menu has also increased. Fan favorites remain, like the spicy chicken sandwich and the bi bim burger, topped with kimchee, sriracha mayo, cucumber, egg and Korean barbecue sauce. They are joined by new additions including a Greek burger, with cucumber, tomato feta and Kalamata olives, and a pork tenderloin served with pear slaw and Gorgonzola. The Sunday brunch menu is almost all new dishes.
The restaurant has also started a new event, a local writers reading night every other Wednesday. Other things could be coming, Gibson said, but for now, the staff are just focused on making the transition as seamless as possible.
"We haven't even really had a chance to breathe," she said.
One thing won't change - when it was the Lincoln Cafe, diners who got a tattoo of the eatery's tagline, "Food is important," were promised free French fries for life. Gibson said she plans to keep honoring that deal.
Where: 117 First St. W, Mount Vernon
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 10 a.m. .to 1 p.m. Sunday
Details: (319) 895-4041; cafepalisades.com