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How A Small-Town Cafe Maintains Its Charm As Tourists Roll In

Wendy Bayes is owner of Cathedral Cafe in Fayetteville, West Virginia. She opened the cafe in 2000 after moving to Fayetteville to work as a river guide in the New River Gorge. Her daughter, Cassidy Bayes, now manages the cafe. In 2021, the New River Gorge was designated the United States’ newest national park.

WENDY BAYES: I came to Fayetteville for the first time in 1992, and I trained to be a raft guide and did that for eight seasons. I was pregnant with Cassidy, and my husband and I knew that if we were going to be at a rafting company, you would find yourself—especially back then, because cell phones and social media definitely weren’t a thing—a little disconnected. We decided that if our kids were going to school here and being raised here, we wanted to be more connected to the community. My husband had been doing menus for the previous owner of the cafe, and she needed somebody to work for her, and so I did. Within a couple of weeks she suggested, “You should just buy this place.” And I thought, “Okay, how hard could that be?” Talk about a learning curve. And then 22 years later, here we are.

CASSIDY BAYES: I took over running Cathedral about a year ago. It was last April. I still wait tables and everything. Right now we’re trying to hire a bunch of people to get in here for the summertime because it’s our busiest season, during rafting and climbing season and everything like that.

WENDY: I only come into the cafe probably a few days a week. I try to help with the gift shop and put orders away. I still order for the cafe to keep connected, and it keeps me connected to Cassidy as well. But most of my day is spent starting a real estate company, and I have two new agents, so we’re training them. I still feel connected to the cafe, and I still miss sitting in here and talking to everyone, which was my favorite part, of course. So I come in on the weekends to do that.

I didn’t have any previous hospitality experience, other than what you have as common knowledge and general decency. I didn’t have any training. I had never waited tables before. Then that turned into 16-hour days here. And then Cassidy took over and allowed me to move on. I tend to do the same thing over and over. You know, you tend to get into a rut, and I like to do different things all the time. This allowed me to go explore other things.

CASSIDY: I grew up at the cafe. There’s pictures of me in photo albums literally holding on to my mom’s back pockets and following her to tables and checking people out at the register—they bought this place when I was four.

WENDY: You were four and a half.

CASSIDY: Everyone’s watched me grow up here. Half the time when people come in here and say, “I remember when you were still in diapers,” I’m like, “I have no idea who you are, but cool!” I started working as a salad and bus girl when I was 14. Then I made my way up to waiting tables, and I was one of the main waitresses here. I went to WVU after I graduated high school and got a degree in integrated communications, then I came back and we opened up a juice bar that we no longer have after the pandemic. We also opened up another business right after I graduated called Southside Junction Tap House, and that’s in downtown Fayetteville, too.

Wendy and Cassidy Bayes at Cathedral Cafe in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Photo: Courtesy Cassidy Bayes.

A lot of the folks who come in are locals. The locals I know—they are the same people that come in here to get a black coffee every single day before going to their job. But a lot of them are raft guys that come here each season, or climbers that have been coming in to get their same breakfast for the past 20 years. They just remember seeing me every season. When they find out I’m Wendy’s daughter, they are like, holy crap!

So I was running the taphouse, and just this past year I took over running the cafe when mom was transferring over to doing real estate full time. Especially with the national park designation, she was getting a lot more people coming here looking for houses. I just wanted to make sure that we were still breathing that fresh life into the place that everyone grew up to love.

When I went to college, I had an idea of what I wanted to do—run social media accounts for larger corporations. I really do enjoy doing marketing for businesses. But when I was graduating, I had a lot of friends that were coming back here. I really grew to love Fayetteville, and I wanted to be able to give back to the town that raised me.

WENDY: I tried my best to steer her away from it.

CASSIDY: My mom was like, “You do not want to run a restaurant. Small businesses are hard.”

WENDY: It’s a lot of work, and you give up a lot. I felt like, as a kid, that she gave up a lot, but she and my son told me, “Mom, we didn’t give up anything. We had a great childhood. We loved coming in here and being with everybody.” So what I thought were sacrifices were actually memories that they cherished.

I think us being a family with kids brought in everybody that had kids. People would stop on their way home—heck, kids stop on their way home from school and grab something. Their parents will give them $5, and if they don’t have enough money, we charge them the $5 and just give it to them. Initially, we were isolated in our river company—and we’re still best friends with all of those people—but the locals didn’t know us from Adam. They’d slowly come in, and now those are the people that come in every single Saturday. They warmed up to us and accepted us.

CASSIDY: My mom was a mom before she was a mom. She was always meant to be a mom and take care of people. I love that about her, but people would run her over sometimes. She would give you the shirt right off her back. When you’re running a small business, you’ve got to be a little mean sometimes. I learned to be a little more stern. You can’t always hire your friends.

WENDY: You’re much better at setting boundaries.

CASSIDY: She was in here every day, and I watched her work and stress herself out about certain things. I’m just like, “If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. If we don’t get that done today, it will get done another day.” I try to make sure that I still have time to be 26 and run a business.

Now, with the national park designation and even a little bit before that, we started seeing new faces. We are so busy right now. Last year was the busiest year that we’ve had in 21 years. We started seeing more people coming here for vacations. We’re definitely becoming less of a local congregation spot, even though we still are open during the wintertime. But during our season, we see a lot of tourists. They come in and talk to us about their adventures and what they did that day on the whitewater, which is super cool. But it’s a different vibe now.

I recently read an article—I don’t remember what paper it was in—but we usually had 600,000 people coming to the gorge each season and going down the river or going rock climbing or whatever they were doing here. Last year it bumped up to 1.7 million. I was like, “That makes so much sense.” We’ve had a line out the door. We used to do full table service, but now we switched to fast-casual dining where people come up to the bar to order and we carry out their food to their table, just because of the amount of people we’re seeing. So many people have changed to doing it that way, and having outdoor dining, and creating more spaces for people to be able to be here with us. There’s so many more Airbnbs and cabins, and all these rentals are opening up just because the demand is so much higher.

There are some people that moved to Fayetteville for that small-town charm. We do still have that, but with just more people. We’re trying to keep it that way. But yeah, there’s definitely some people that prefer having those dead winters and not as populated summers. But as a 26 year old, having this many people coming to a town that I’ve loved my entire life is really cool.

Photo: Courtesy Cassidy Bayes.

WENDY: During lockdown, we stayed open the entire time. We did to-go orders, but what we mostly did were family-style takeout meals because the population is growing a ton. We wanted to be able to offer something to the healthcare workers that were working these long shifts. They’re still exhausted. They haven’t got a break yet. We would have it hot and ready for them to take home when they stopped by. We also turned into a general store because nobody could find toilet paper, nobody could find yeast, flour, eggs. We had all this at our store, which was in the cafe.

So you couldn’t come in and dine anymore, but you could come in and pick up your order. Because everybody was so isolated, we would have locals come in and sit down on opposite corners of the restaurant. Our catering manager Jenny and I worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week, and we would sit in opposite corners of the restaurant, and they would just sit and talk to us for hours. They missed that “cafe connection.” Then we’d had people come in that were from out of town, just place a to-go order. Everybody felt that southern West Virginia was a safe place to go, so we took them in as well.

That led into real estate. We have a place right across the street from us, Michael Williams’ Bridge Bound Campers, and he retrofits these brand new Ford vans and makes them into camper vans for everybody so that they can travel around and work remotely. He can’t make those fast enough.

CASSIDY: One challenge that I have seen is trying to find a balance to keep locals happy while trying to keep the new people coming in happy as well. People do really love coming into the cafe when it’s slow, and being able to sit at the bar and enjoy a cup of coffee while talking to our barista. Keeping them happy while also being able to facilitate the needs of all of the people that are traveling to the area is a fine line that you have to walk. You need to make sure that you don’t lose the people that are the backbone of what you started.

When people come in and we know them, we shout their name from across the restaurant, even when it’s full. It’s the Cheers factor. I say, “Hey, Jim,” save a seat for him at the bar, and I save the crossword for him because I know he likes it.

WENDY: We still are the cafe family. And those same people, those same locals that we know and love, if we’re busy, they will get up and clear tables. They would go in the back and wash dishes. They are down for whatever we need from them, so we try to go out of our way for them as well.

Photo: Courtesy Cassidy Bayes.

CASSIDY: Right now we’re just trying to wrap our arms around the amount of people that we’re seeing, dealing with food costs going up, and trying to stay fully staffed. Trying to find those people to come work right now is one of our big things. But if we can get that done, we have a deck that we’re putting out this summer. We redid one of the walls of the historic church that we’re in at the cafe, and we put in a handicap-accessible lift for people, so we’ll be able to get that going. I’m trying to get some live music out here on the weekend as well. I’m just trying to make this place as fun as possible. That’s the plan for right now, and that’s what we’re rolling with.