January 7, 2010
Marathon gathers at Reilly’s Cafe
East Main Street eatery embodies small-town life in conversation, food
MARATHON — Don Barber walked into Reilly’s Cafe just after 11 a.m. Tuesday, as lunch was starting to be served, and settled onto his favorite stool at the counter.
The electrical inspector, one of several men over 60 who eat or meet for coffee every day at the restaurant in the village’s center, ordered the special: grilled ham steak.
“I eat breakfast here three or four times a week, and lunch a lot too,” he said, adding that this is his habit before he heads to Binghamton or Pennsylvania to do inspections.
Barber is not alone.
Owner Scott Reilly said he sees the same faces almost every day, whether it’s village residents who need a meal or a cluster of friends who have coffee and discuss the latest news, both the stories in the news media and the gossip from around town.
Stay there all day or visit every day, patrons said, and it is possible to see a cross-section of the village and town residents.
Many of them have been eating there since before Reilly owned it, when the place was called Blondie’s and had a menu of mostly pizza and sub sandwiches. They mix well with the other regular customers: truck drivers, teachers from Marathon Central School across the street, village and town officials and workers, farmers. The cafe also attracts people who stop by occasionally, such as visitors to Greek Peak ski resort or motorists who exit nearby Interstate 81 for a break.
Reilly, who grew up in Marathon, and his wife, Kristina, opened the restaurant in 1997, after he worked as a cook in area restaurants such as Rascal’s, Spanky’s and the Donut Box in Cortland.
“We bill ourselves as having quality food at cafe prices,” he said, noting the cafe is not fancy in decor. “Our menu is less expensive. We make up for it in volume of customers.”
The cafe is open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Reilly’s Cafe offered a menu of 10 entrees for New Year’s Eve. Reilly said the place was full from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m.
One wall is covered with memorabilia from the New York Yankees and the Binghamton Senators professional hockey team. Reilly and his father, Mike, have season tickets to the Senators home games.
A framed photograph shows Scott Reilly being lifted by high school soccer teammates after he scored the winning goal against Cincinnatus in 1986.
He said the wall was covered with images of the restaurant itself until a few years ago, when he went on vacation and waitresses Chris Fowlston and Robin Parker decided to make a change.
“They took all of my memorabilia out of boxes and put it up there,” Reilly said.
In a corner sat three women who meet at the cafe every week before working at the village’s historical society: retired teachers Joan Fleming and Lavena Court, and Kathy Dennison, an owner of the village’s NAPA Auto Parts store.
“In a small town, you know everyone, and you see them here,” Dennison said.
In another corner sat three men who eat together almost every day: Don Fredenburg, who works at the village post office, and electricians Dan Fedele and Doug Chidester.
Fedele said the three like that particular table and try to sit there whenever they have lunch at Reilly’s.
Chidester said the three men like to eat food that is not fast food, and to spend money in the village.
About seven men gather for coffee every morning, Reilly said, and another coffee group of women sometimes sits nearby.
“We have a bottomless cup, so they are here quite a while,” he said.
“We talk about what’s in the newspaper or on TV, the weather, the news around town,” Barber said.
A couple, Dan and Donna Wickham, said eating lunch at Reilly’s was not something they did often.
“We get tired of fast food, and we like the camaraderie here,” Dan Wickham said. “I see people I’ve worked with in the past, and cousins, and people we don’t see on a regular basis.”
“Eat here every day for a week, and you’ll see everyone in this village,” Scott Reilly said.
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