OWOSSO — A cup of coffee at Joe-Lee’s Crosswinds Cafe can run $100 — if you count the cost of fuel and maintenance required to fly in from Chesaning or Lapeer.
Minus plane-related expenses, the coffee actually costs $2. The $100 cuppa is one the running jokes at the cafe, located “on the field” — as the aviators say — at Owosso Community Airport.
The place has been taken over by longtime food service pros and close friends Joe Voelker, 37, and Lee Ann French, 43. Many changes are underway: expanded hours/days, Mexican Night and plenty of community giving.
“We both always wanted to own our own restaurant,” Voelker said. “You can’t work in restaurants for 20 years without wanting one of your own.”
“I’ve always wanted this place,” French said. “The first time I saw it, I fell in love with it. This is a gem no one knows about. You can watch the planes take off and land from here — it gives you goosebumps to see the kids so excited.”
So, when the pair heard Crosswinds was closed this summer, they bought the business and opened it two weeks later, on July 4. They installed a booth (formerly a church pew) along one wall, replaced another wall, planted flowers and put up a new sign, helped by family members and friends Shane and Autumn West.
And those are just the cosmetic changes. French and Voelker have added Friday night (4 to 9 p.m.) to the usual schedule of Saturday and Sunday (6 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
“Who doesn’t want to get together on a Friday?” French said. “Plus, we’re all in for Mexican.”
Unlike previous owners of the cafe, who kept hours during the summer only, the two friends say they’re planning to keep Joe-Lee’s Crosswinds Cafe open in every season.
“We’re going to try and stay open all year long,” Voelker said. “No one has ever done that here before.”
Friday nights spotlight Mexican fare, including wet burritos, quesadillas, nachos, Mexican pizza, tostados, tacos and taco salad. French makes her own nacho chips, from flour instead of corn.
The small cafe seats 24 people indoors, but French and Voelker have set up outdoor seating and plan to reconfigure interior seating to accommodate more diners.
Given the partners’ extensive experience cooking, serving and managing local eateries, Joe-Lee’s Crosswinds Cafe has gotten off to a strong start, they said.
“So far it’s been great,” Voelker said. “Every week, it gets busier and busier. We have a lot of regulars already.”
There’s “Uncle Mitch” — a regular fly-in the pair have “adopted” — who spent the first dollar at the new cafe. There are the several other pilots who come in often. Some recently asked for ice cream — and they got it, as the new cafe owners said they are eager to accommodate requests, within reason.
Finally, there are the loyal customers who have followed French and Voelker. For example, so many of them came to a fundraiser for Community Cats of Owosso that $1,000 was collected for the cause.
“This is our version of ‘Cheers,’” Voelker said. “People are here, they’re coming back and we’re loving it.”
French grew up in Owosso, graduating from Morrice High School in 1993. She handled the food service at Chippewa Hills Country Club in Shiawassee Township for 13 years, setting up the menu, cooking and serving. Currently, French operates a home-based business.
She met Voelker at Chippewa Hills, where he bartended, served, cooked and ran banquets for four years. Growing up in Alba, Voelker moved to Owosso 20 years ago, and has been working for local restaurants ever since, including Newport Coney Island. Right now, he’s a server at Applebee’s in Caledonia Township.
At Joe-Lee’s Crosswinds Cafe, French and Voelker do a little of everything, but French does most of the cooking while Voelker makes coffee, greets people and serves food. French’s daughter Danielle, 17, is helping out as a server, and her sisters, Violet, 13, and Sophia, 3, also lend a hand.
The partners are hosting or supporting a number of community fundraisers, including Aviation For Alzheimer’s, a free family event set for 2 to 6 p.m. Sept. 21 at Owosso Community Airport. Children can look at planes, explore a bounce house, play games and have fun with clowns. A portion of the proceeds from the cafe food sold will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association, French and Voelker said.
For more details about the event, visit Joe-Lee’s Crosswinds Cafe on Facebook.
Among other contributions, the cafe is providing cooked meals to four homeless families currently staying in a local motel.
“Any business that’s a successful business gives back to the community,” French said. “I truly believe everything happens for a reason. We’re on a shoe-string budget and God has blessed us very well. We want to give back.”
The Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce is hosting a ribbon-cutting at the cafe just as Aviation For Alzheimer’s kicks off, at 2 p.m. Sept. 21. Everyone is invited.