Archive for Thursday, September 2, 1999


September 2, 1999


Whoever wins this essay contest gets the keys to The Northside Cafe in Cawker City, a town in north-central Kansas that's home to the world's largest ball of twine.

Dorothy "Pepper" Roberts is turning to the written word instead of a real estate agent to sell The Northside Cafe in Cawker City.

Think you might like to own a small-town cafe where gossip is dished up alongside hamburgers and homemade pie? Send Roberts a certified check or money order for $100 and an essay of 500 words or less explaining why.

Residents of Cawker City -- home of the world's largest ball of twine -- will help Roberts and her family choose the best essay. The winner gets the keys to the cafe.

Yep, it resembles "The Spitfire Grill," a movie in which a woman in Maine sells her restaurant through an essay contest. That's where Roberts and her kin got the idea.

The essay contest sounds as if it would be legal in Kansas, said Mary Tritsch, director of communications for the attorney general's office. Because the essay contest will be based on the writing skill of the contestant and not chance, it should fly, Tritsch said.

Roberts, whose son bought the cafe she's run for close to five years, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.

"I've been given my notice, so to speak," she said.

The 63-year-old woman has other reasons for "passing the baton" too.

"I'm an old lady, and I have 12 beautiful grandchildren," she said. "I'm also the domestic violence coordinator for two counties and a court-appointed special advocate for two counties. That's where I want to be."

Part of Cawker City since the '50s, The Northside Cafe is a Main Street-type establishment, Roberts said.

"What I call the Coffee Country Club meets here every afternoon. It's a bunch of characters," she said. "It's a lot like the 'Spitfire Grill' between me and you and the fencepost."

Roberts' advice for people considering a move to Cawker City: "They don't tolerate liars or thieves. And if you don't want to be known about, don't come here."

But the town of roughly 650 people in north-central Kansas is a great place to work and live, especially for fishermen and hunters because of its proximity to Waconda Lake, Roberts said.

The essay contest winner must be up for some hard work. The Northside Cafe opens at 6:30 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. seven days a week. During hunting season it opens at 4:30 a.m.

The food is standard cafe fare, but Roberts admits "we're pretty snotty here. We get hamburger ground fresh daily from Basco's Market, and they make the best sausage in the country. We also have homemade pies."

She decided to sell the cafe through an essay contest because "it's a chance for the community to be involved. The cafe belongs to the folks here in Cawker in its own way."

The contest will close after the 700th entry.

What's Roberts and her team of judges looking for in the essays?

"Be creative, for heaven's sake. We won't be hard-headed on spelling or grammar," she said.

Entries should be sent to The Northside Cafe, 709 Wisconsin St., Cawker City 67430. Entries must be postmarked on or before Dec. 30 and arrive at the cafe before Jan. 9.

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is

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