by: RUSS BAGLIEN - Sisters Renee Hayes (left) and Connie Cummings owned Country Cottage Restaurant until it had to be relocated. Then each paved their own way in the restaurant business.When sisters Connie Cummings and Renee Hayes were informed by ODOT that their Country Cottage restaurant would be torn down to make room for the new I-5 Woodburn Interchange they were “shook up.” They had spent 10 years developing a steady trade that included patrons from off the freeway. Learning they would face having to move or go out of business altogether, they were, in their own words, “devastated.”

A year later that devastation is gone. Though they are no longer partners, both are still in the restaurant business and doing well. The sisters knew the restaurant business and they were going to “stay in it.”

Their mom, Joyce Fischer, had moved to Woodburn to be near her sister, Dody Flack, a resident of The Estates. She had operated a restaurant in the Seattle area, in which both girls had worked, so at the urging of her sister, she put in a bid to lease The Estates Golf and Country Club to operate the clubhouse restaurant. Her bid wasn’t accepted, but after the two daughters came visiting, they decided they could have success operating a family style restaurant in a smaller building available nearby.

Mom and the two daughters opted to make that location the home of their new family diner, Country Cottage. Within two years they had moved to the former location of Woodburn Berry Inn, closer to the freeway exit and giving them increased eating capacity for their thriving new restaurant.

Knowing they would have to close their doors and find a new location or go out of business, Connie and Renee began looking for the “right place” for a new home. Renee, a born optimist, looks back and says, “All things happen for a reason and we were destined to each take a new path.”

They had been paid by ODOT for their building and had capital to make choices. Marquam Tavern, an eatery and “watering hole” established in 1895, burned down in 1950 and wasn’t rebuilt until 1970, when it reopened as Markum Inn. It was for sale. Both sisters showed some initial interest.

Connie, who had operated tavern restaurants in North Dakota earlier in her life, thought that was the answer for them. But Renee, who still has a teenager at home, didn’t like the prospect of driving 25 minutes to work and didn’t want to lose quality time with her family, so she decided she would look for other opportunities.

Connie went ahead with the purchase of Markum Inn and has been “just flabbergasted” by the reception she has received.

“We’ve been busy since the day we opened and gotten busier by the day,” she says.

She has already expanded seating with the addition of a beer garden for good weather. She has tripled business since she assumed ownership in November 2012.

“I’ve never been so excited in my life,” she says.

She is also pleased for sister Renee’s success at the reopened Country Cottage at The Estates.

Renee had been in contact with The Estates and had learned that the club was again looking to lease their clubhouse restaurant to a new operator. After weeks of negotiating and encouragement from Country Cottage patrons and Estates residents, Renee signed a lease and set about rehabbing and redecorating for her relocation reopening. Country Cottage opened once again October 2012.

Estates general manager Sharon Schaub, aware that four previous operators had failed to make a go of it, says, “Renee and her staff were an immediate fit with our residents and we are absolutely delighted that Country Cottage is at The Estates.”

Day by day, old customers find their new location and became regulars again, says Renee.

“Even some of our old freeway patrons have found us again and we are busy every day,” Renee says.

She couldn’t be happier and is equally pleased that sister Connie is happy with her new venture.

The sisters are both prime examples of what hard work and good business habits can to do ensure success. They are grateful that they learned restauranting from their mom, who willed Country Cottage to both girls when she died in 2005.

Make no mistake, each sister has her own individual personality. What they have in common is good, home-cooked food served in a comfortable, friendly manner by an efficient service staff. They know the trade. “Momma taught us good,” say the sisters. If you visit Country Cottage or Markum Inn, you will find that momma, indeed, taught ‘em good. They belong in the restaurant business.

Contract Publishing

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