Theta Porter celebrates 90th birthday with a party at her cafe in Squires
SQUIRES – Customers, friends and family poured into Porter’s Cafe on Monday for a sweet reason — but, for once, it wasn’t proprietor Theta Porter’s homemade pies.
Instead, it was simply to celebrate the beloved cafe owner, who turned 90 last week.
“Not many people her age are still running a restaurant,” says local resident Jerry Campbell, who attended the party and also speaks of the role her cafe plays in local life. “She’s good to everybody. [The cafe] is kind of a community gathering place.”
Around 50 folks came to the cafe for the party for Theta, who marked the occasion with a cake, hugs and kind words. Letters from elected representatives filled a counter. Cards overflow from a basket sitting alongside a guest book to record partygoers for the future.
“It just blesses my heart,” says Jena Moyer, a relative of Theta’s, who helped organize the party. “She works so hard and does so much for the community. To spend one day to celebrate her life — it’s really worth it.”
Some of Theta’s efforts are through community service work. Most days, though, they’re through her cafe, where she takes all the orders, cooks and serves all the food, buses the tables and even rings up customers when they pay their bills.
It’s something she’s been doing since 1960, when she was in her early 30s. The cafe had its start after she frequently served meals to customers waiting on repairs at her husband’s automotive garage.
“Back when I was young, if someone was at your house at mealtime, you invited them to come and eat,” she told Ozarks Alive in 2016. “So if someone was at the shop having something worked on, and came mealtime … he brought them to the house to eat.”
Since Porter never knew how many people to cook for, she always made extra food.
“I always had to cook a big meal and always had somebody, that was for sure,” she says, and eventually she decided, “If I’m going to have to cook for these people, I just as well get paid for it.”
Someone who remembers much of that time is Randy Spurlock, whose family has owned and operated Spurlock’s Store for more than 115 years. At the party, he reminisced about when he’d look forward to visiting the cafe with his father for a ride on the counter’s stools.
“She’d let me [spin] and then she’d push me to go faster,” says Randy, who also snuck away from the family’s store to visit Theta in his younger years. “She’d fix me whatever I wanted to eat, and then she’d stand at the window and watch me cross back over the highway.”
Those years have given lessons as well as sweet memories.
“She shows us we need to keep going,” he says.
Perhaps that get-up-and-go has been strengthened by trials. After all, the past 58 years haven’t always been easy.
In the 1960s, Theta’s cafe was bypassed by a “new” highway — but she relocated. Around 12 years ago, the restaurant burned to the ground — but she rebuilt. About a year later, she fell and broke her hip — but she got back up and started cooking again just as soon as she could.
Such get-up-and-go tie to her secret for a long, productive life.
“What would I do?” she said in 2016. “I don’t like to watch television that much. I love to read, but you get tired of that. And I kind of like to mess with my flowers, but you can only do so much of that.
“I just have to have a purpose to get out of bed in the morning.”
Today, however, she does have a retirement plan.
“Everyone says I can retire in 10 years,” she says with a laugh.
Want to learn more?
Porter’s Cafe, on Highway 5 at Squires, is open from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
To read more of Kaitlyn McConnell’s blog, Ozarks Alive!, visit ozarksalive.com. This post, about Squires cafe owner Theta Porter celebrating her 90th birthday, is reprinted with permission of Kaitlyn McConnell.