STORY BY KAITLYN HUANG AND MADISON YUE, PHOTOS BY EMILY MCNALLY
Typical hobbies might include woodworking, gardening or maybe even starting a book club — but Julie Ogilvie is no weekend hobbyist. Wanting to start a hobby that could make a mark on the community, she and her husband, David Ogilvie, took ownership of the restaurant Village Pantry to give the Los Altos community a place to call home.
“We bought it for my wife to be productive and to have something in the community that she could say ‘Look, I did this,’” Mr. Ogilvie said.
Over 20 years later, Mr. and Mrs. Ogilvie still own and operate the cozy coffee shop, which was originally established in 1947.
“I learned a lot from running this restaurant,” she said. “All [of] the customers teach me a lot. It feels like a home.”
Customers also feel at home, as the restaurant is a popular gathering place for them to share stories in a warm and friendly environment. Dining at Village Pantry is like taking a walk down memory lane surrounded by cheerful and pleasant decorated interiors. The restaurant’s walls have over 20 years’ worth of photos and holiday greeting cards from previous customers.
“I think it’s [because] people want to say that ‘This is my place too,” Mr. Ogilvie said, in regard to why they decided to cover the walls with memorabilia. “They want to be remembered.”
Diane Chow, a Los Altos resident and familiar face at Village Pantry, was astonished that kids who have grown up going to the restaurant now bring their own children to relive Village Pantry memories.
“They go there with their kids, and they like to point out the pictures on the wall,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘That’s me when I was a kid, having the famous Mickey Mouse chocolate pancake.’”
Not only do customers create memories at Village Pantry, but Mr. and Mrs. Ogilvie have their own warm memories of running the restaurant, such as bonding with friends, filling the shop with “relaxing music” from the ’50s and “making people happy” — one of their many goals when running the shop.
And people are indeed happy with their service –– longtime customer and Los Altos resident Phyllis Yamasaki said that dining with her husband at Village Pantry has consistently been their “weekend treat” for the past 13 years. The restaurant is also their spot for celebrating life’s biggest milestones like birthdays, Father’s Days and Sunday brunches with their family.
“We fell in love with Julie and David and how welcoming they always are, and how they remembered our names right away,” Yamasaki said. “They started to know what our favorite dishes were.”
Chow added that newcomers “automatically start to feel at home because somebody in there will start to talk to them.” Chow herself has made numerous friends that she continues to meet on a regular basis outside of Village Pantry.
Yamaski added that it’s not just the environment that makes you feel at home, but the food too.
“The first bite of anything from Village Pantry, I know it’s homemade,” Yamasaki said. “I know I’m not eating something that was previously frozen.”
Walking into Village Pantry, customers are often greeted with the aroma of warm hashbrowns, freshly flipped pancakes and creamy hollandaise sauce on a classic eggs benedict.
The Ogilvies also take pride in the fact that Mrs. Ogilvie shops for all of their ingredients personally, buying fresh veggies and fruits from local vendors in Los Altos.
“It’s an old-style restaurant, it’s not a fancy place, [but] it guarantees decent food. That’s our goal,” Mr. Ogilvie said.
Mrs. Ogilvie is notable among her customers for her dedication and arriving at the coffee shop at 5:30 a.m. every day of the week to cook the majority of the food.
“Julie is a real trooper, [working] unbelievable hours to provide the quality of service that she does,” said Los Altos resident Larry Dorie, another regular at Village Pantry. “She’s an asset. She’s not in it to make a fast buck [and] she’s not in it to get rich. She really enjoys providing a service to customers and you can see that in her when you go there.”
But the Ogilvies were met with unparalleled challenges during the pandemic because a large group of their customers, who were seniors, could not visit the restaurant on a regular basis like they did prior to the pandemic. As a result, they faced a significant drop in revenue which forced them to work even harder to keep the business afloat. According to Mr. Ogilvie, Village Pantry only made it through the worst parts of the pandemic through the support of his other job.
The Ogilvies also said that they received help from customers who pitched in to prevent the restaurant’s closure; some customers went so far as to buying take-out on a daily basis to ensure that the restaurant could remain open.
“The restaurant is surviving because of the community,” Mr. Ogilvie said.
Fast forwarding to May, under county guidelines, Village Pantry is now operating at 50% capacity for indoor dining, and the outdoor garden patio is open every day. The restaurant also offers a to-go system, in which customers can pick up orders without leaving their cars, giving the opportunity for the Ogilvies to connect with their patrons.
“We now know our customers by their cars,” Mr. Ogilvie said.
Mr. Ogilvie also noted that the customers’ excitement and love for Village Pantry is what “keeps us open.”
“It’s our home away from home,” Yamasaki said.
Village Pantry is open in Downtown Los Altos every day from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.