Jodie Mehrer's first restaurant job was washing dishes for 17 cents an hour in a little café when she was 16 years old. She's been in the industry ever since.
Mehrer and her husband opened a restaurant in 1990, when she was in her early 20s, but after four years, they made the decision to close. Their son had been born premature, and they needed to focus on him instead.
She kept cooking, though, including baking pies and even wedding cakes out of her home, and in 2003, opened The Ol' Farmhouse in Chester, Illinois, southeast of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. Mehrer bought out her partner in 2012 and renamed it Jodie's Ol' Farmhouse and Bakery.
"We have anything. We're more of a country-diner type place," Mehrer says. "We have a really good country breakfast: eggs, fried potatoes, country ham, biscuits and gravy and hand-pattied sausage."
Jodie's also serves horsehoes, the Springfield, Illinois, specialty: a sandwich featuring a beef patty piled high with french fries and cheese sauce. Another bestseller is the housemade onion rings, as well as the fried chicken, Mehrer says.
"Because we're such a small town, we've really stayed consistent as far as [customers]," she says. "Some people are here three times a day. We get great support from the community."
On the bakery side, Jodie's serves housemade pies, such as coconut creme, chocolate, lemon, cherry, peach-blackberry and apple, plus cheesecake in flavors like peanut butter and pastries including peach turnovers, bear claws, cinnamon rolls and more.
Mehrer likens the decor to that of Cracker Barrel; her mother and aunt decorated with antiques, and the shop also sells decor and crafts made by her mother. The down-home dining room seats about 50, with room for another 50 to 60 in the banquet room, where Jodie's can host private events. The restaurant also offers catering, as well as wedding cakes.
"Everybody's like, 'You need to expand!'" Mehrer says. "I want to keep doing what we're doing. I'd like to see more onsite and offsite [catering], but I'm really happy the way it is. I don't want to get too big – when people get too commercialized, they lose the whole meaning of why they started."
Jodie's Ol' Farmhouse and Bakery, 639 State St., Chester, Illinois, 618.826.1870, facebook.com/jodiesolfarmhouse