Red Onion Café Draws a Crowd at New Charlotte Home

Mickey West was unsure how her iconic Red Onion Café would fare when she relocated it from Church Street in Burlington to the former site of a wildflower farm in Charlotte. The contrasts between the two environments are stark: urban versus rural; pedestrian traffic versus fast-moving automobile traffic.

However, 18 months after relocating to the Charlotte Crossings building on Route 7 near Ferry Road, the café is still as busy as ever. The menu remains the same, and the customers remain satisfied.

The Red Onion Sandwich ($12) is a common denominator. It’s a classic, a greatest hit, the sandwich equivalent of “Born to Run”: thick, dense homemade honey-oat bread; turkey; bacon; apples; smoked cheese; and, of course, red onions. Toasted. It remains the most popular item on West’s menu to this day.

For more than three decades, the Red Onion Café was a fixture on the Church Street Marketplace. West amassed a devoted following of college students, downtown workers, and tourists over time.

The menu remains the same, and the customers remain satisfied.
She admitted that moving south was difficult, but she had no choice. Rent was already posing a financial strain before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Additionally, West stated that the downtown area’s homeless population became too difficult to manage.

“I liked the majority of these gentlemen. They were courteous to me. I was courteous to them “As West stated. However, nice did not compensate for other issues. “As a 70-year-old woman, it was becoming a little too violent there,” she explained. “I was no longer equipped to deal with that.”

When she opened in Charlotte, it was immediately apparent that there were some silver linings. It’s only five minutes from her house; she feels secure walking into work each morning; and her star employee and son, Mac West-Poss, continues to work alongside her.

From the start, West stated, things quickly became out of control. “The first six to seven months came dangerously close to breaking our backs,” she recalls. “I was thinking, Oh, my God, I’m not going to be able to do this. I am unable to keep up with this. At night, we’d return home and bake bread.”

However, residents were ecstatic to have the Red Onion nearby. At 1:30 p.m. on a recent dreary, drizzly Saturday, there was a line out the door. At 2:00 p.m., the café was scheduled to close. West stated that she occasionally continues at 3 a.m. if a crowd shows up. The aroma of baking bread assures those standing in line that their wait will be worthwhile.

Dorothy van Gerbig, a Charlotte resident, stopped by for lunch and a few extras: tomato orzo soup, beetroot salad, focaccia, green salad, and a chocolate mousse cake decorated with Easter egg candies. She is overjoyed that the café has relocated from Burlington and frequents it on weekends.

“It’s a tremendous blessing for us,” van Gerbig explained. “I enjoy coming to see what she has in the hopper.” The soups, she continued, are incredible.

West prepares the soups and salads herself — frequently without consulting a recipe or recording one for future use. This is not always a wise strategy, she admitted, because she can never recall exactly what she did to make something so popular.

Read more • sevendaysvt.com

Suggested Reading