Maria’s takes over Katie’s

Christina Smith
The new Maria's in Washington took over the location once occupied by Katie's Cafe.

Despite initial concerns about running two restaurants, Maria Taylor, 44, and her husband, Bob Taylor, 59, of Germantown Hills, decided to open a second restaurant in Washington, in the former Katie’s location.

Taylor said she left a message for the restaurant’s owner, Jerry Hamilton, saying that she was sorry to hear about Katie’s closing.

“The attorney next door was in charge of checking messages and called to ask me if I would like to see the building,” Taylor said.

After seeing the building, Taylor said she realized how important the restaurant had been to residents.

A few months later, Taylor said the owners of the building contacted her to see if she would like to open a restaurant in the building. Otherwise, it would be turned into offices.

Taylor said she did not want to see that happen and talked it over with her husband.

“We didn’t have any money to open a restaurant, but we talked to Washington Community Bank officials and they gave us a loan, which was enough for us to be open for one week,” Taylor said.

Eventually, the Taylors were able to purchase all of the remaining equipment and furniture from the bank that had a lien on the building.

“For the first three weeks, something always broke down, whether it was the freezer, the grill, a computer or the phone,” Taylor said.

Bob said they are still working on getting the right team of employees together, adding they have hired about 19 employees so far.

Taylor said she does most of the cooking and is training sous chef Royce Butler and chef Mike Bencher in her style of cooking.

“The staff we have are committed and have been putting in extra hours to help us get on our way to becoming a good family restaurant,” Taylor said. 

For the Taylors, opening Maria’s in Washington is not the only challenge they faced and overcame.

In 1999, Bob Taylor retired from Caterpillar Inc. and Taylor opened a new gift shop, tea room and ceramic studio in Peoria. During the next four years, Taylor closed the studio, opened a banquet room, added a tea and party room for children and expanded her gift shop.

Taylor’s business closed after going bankrupt in 2004. A few weeks later, Bob Taylor found out he had cancer.

“I am convinced that if we had not closed when we did, I would not have known I was sick until it was too late to do something,” Bob said. “I am also convinced that God had a hand in all of this.”

Taylor reopened Maria’s on Prospect in February 2006, after being approached by a local corporation official the year before, who asked her to reopen the restaurant the same way it was before and run it for the corporation.

About nine months later, officials from the same corporation informed the Taylors they needed to take control of the restaurant or it would be closed.

“Quite a few people have gone through the same experience, and telling others about our story helps solidify our relationship with our customers,” Bob said.

Although the Taylors only offer lunch at their Peoria location, Maria’s in Washington serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Bob said one of their most popular items is their chicken puff pie, which is freshly cooked and tastes similar to a chicken pot pie.

“We started with it (chicken puff pie) six years ago and tried to take it off the menu in Peoria, but too many customers complained, so we brought it back,” Bob said.

Quiches, a Yankee pot roast and Steak Diane are also popular lunch or dinner items.

Bob said they offer a different homemade soup of the day, which varies between lunch and dinner.

Taylor said she serves daily lunch and dinner specials that vary from day to day and week to week.

Lunch specials are $8.99 and dinner specials are $10.99, Bob Taylor added.

On Wednesdays, children eat free with the purchase of an adult meal.

Seniors can participate in the 55 and older club, which offers customers a free meal on their 11th visit. 

For customers who are in a hurry, Taylor said they can either call in or fax their orders ahead of time and they will be ready by the time they arrive at the restaurant.

Taylor said from the time she starts baking around 6:30 a.m. until closing time, she is constantly moving and working.

“Some days I do not leave until 9 p.m. or later, depending on what I have to do,” Taylor said.

“The school I went to taught students a cooking class that was the equivalent of a culinary arts minor at an American university,” Taylor said.

The Taylors taught their children, Robert, 23, and Andrew, 18, how to cook.

“It is an important process to learn how to cook when you are young,” Taylor said.

Bob said their youngest son still helps with their restaurants.

“The most rewarding thing is when someone says, ‘Thank you for the meal,’” Taylor said.

“We are very thankful to Washington residents for their support,” Bob said.