KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Connie Murray usually gets to Clyde’s Cozy Corner Café at 5 a.m. – two hours before the doors open – and she leaves a few hours after the grill is turned off and the last customer leaves.
In between, she has a fulltime job as an auditor.
Murray was supposed to be a silent partner at one of the town’s iconic diners. That all changed when her best friend and business partner, Teri Ankeney got sick.
“When I’m tired and trying to get up in the morning, I get inspired by how hard the people here have supported us,” Murray said. “Everyone has really stepped up. Everyone has rallied around Toni.”
Ankeney was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. Her treatments are grueling; her battle is relentless and leaves no time to be concerned with daily specials and schedules.
Her recovery has united an entire city.
Other businesses, including other restaurants, have joined with community organizations of clubs to lend their support.
“When we expanded, other restaurants donated extra tables and chairs to get us going,” Murray said. “Even the health inspector’s been good by working with us.”
Others have chipped in to help with permits and licensing, Murray said. And many who know Ankeney – and some who don’t – have donated handmade trinkets, novelties and crafts to sell at the diner to help with costs.
There are books and ceramic cats on the shelves, next to unique living room ornaments, candles and paintings. Items carved and cut from wood are made by Ankeney’s parents. Make no mistake: it’s not about buying a piece of treasure. It’s lending support to a treasured friend.
“Keystone Heights has humbled me,” Murray said.
Ankeney revived the town’s American Legion Auxiliary and she’s been a strong supporter of the local American Legion and AMVETS posts.
Unlike other establishments, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cripple Cylde’s. The restaurant was closed for a week while it went through a rigorous cleaning project and reorganization of its menu and kitchen.
Loyal customers took their meals home.
“When we closed for a week, I went home and cried,” Murray said. “When we reopened with takeouts, many people were tipping more than their food costed. I still went home and cried, but it was for a good reason.”
The diner is open again and the locals have returned to enjoy breakfast and lunch. The kitchen is staffed with graduates of Keystone Heights High. In addition to pushing a pencil with her 9-to-5 job, Murray has learned to push omelets and make sure everyone’s coffee mug is filled.
“It’s been a challenge,” Murray said. “It’s not easy to find good help. We’re fortunate to have a really good group in here now. The kitchen staff is incredible.
“When I went into this three years ago, I was supposed to be a silent partner. That changed two years ago. Now it’s 14-hour days. It’s a lot, but it’s worth it. Toni’s my best friend and that keeps me going.”