Over on Kauneonga Lake's main thoroughfare, Horseshoe Lake Road, economic life is finally rebounding. Some restaurants on “Restaurant Row” were able to stagger through 2020; others chose not to. …
Over on Kauneonga Lake's main thoroughfare, Horseshoe Lake Road, economic life is finally rebounding. Some restaurants on “Restaurant Row” were able to stagger through 2020; others chose not to.
Last summer and right up into September, people kept coming into my ice cream parlor (Sticky Fingers Delectables, now open) posing one urgent question: “When will the Fat Lady Café reopen?” Proprietor Judy Maidenbaum found the risks of opening for her staff and family and herself insurmountable, so the doors to this pivotal local restaurant—a communal welcoming space for disparate people from places far and wide around the world—remained locked.
The undulating two-storied building's pink shell became something of a metaphor for 2020: silent, stolid, forlorn, dark, painful. The blue hydrangea plants bloomed unnoticed at midnight under the single lamppost; white chairs and painted tables stood unused in stacks on the Café's broad cantilevered decks. Not a laugh to be heard; and no guitars. No guitars. The Fat Lady Café in 2020 was 2020.
This week I sat down with Judy in the Café as she prepared to reopen it. There is lots to do in advance of the projected reopening date of Thursday, May 27th: secure a new chef, find serving staff, see to the physical plant and the provisioning of the restaurant. As we talk, various and sundry, taciturn handymen and loquacious politicians, drop in. It's like a slow-moving, unrehearsed reception line.
Make no dispute. Judy Maidenbaum is the Grande Dame and the Owl Mother of Kauneonga Lake. She poopoos the idea when I put it to her. But it's true. People tell me constantly—continually—that it was Judy's drive, Judy's ambition, Judy's pluck and Judy's defiance of all nay-sayers (myriad in number) that finally saved our beautiful waterfront from falling into irredeemable decay. “I wanted to create something great for my kids.” The day back in 2003 when Judy finally bought the land to build the Café, Kauneonga Lake was turned on the road to resurrection.
Why did Judy, a Manhattanite psychologist, come here? Easier to stay on the Upper East Side, lined with limestone mansions. Judy's father, a machinist, served in the Far East during the Second World War while her mother raised the children alone in poverty on Coney Island.
Life was hard and building something greater for your kids and community must have been immeasurably harder. Judy came here to roll up her sleeves maybe because she realized hardship and the sum of community and family are infinitely better than stupid limestone facades.
In 2021, with her new chef Craig, the Café will open daily except Wednesdays. On Thursday evenings in July and August, there will be a lobster special. Judy is putting out an entirely new day menu which allows visitors to eat ‘dinner for lunch' or ‘lunch for dinner.'
Life is short and hard. Swing on by. Thank someone to whom we all owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude. Let happiness unfurl itself again across the decks of The Fat Lady and let the guitars twang out deep again across the waters of Kauneonga!