Carrying on tradition
Family-run cafe has long history in Stanley
STANLEY – Traditions help define the identity of a small town, according to the owners of a long-time Main Street cafe that has been part of the Stanley community’s tradition.
Cory and Jamie Rice not only carry on Joyce’s Cafe, started by Cory’s grandparents, but they have retained certain aspects of the operation that respect the history of the restaurant and the familiarity that customers enjoy.
“They kind of know what to expect when they’re coming here – almost like a comfort,” Jamie Rice said.
Cory Rice’s grandparents, Alvin and Joyce Neether, originally opened a restaurant in Stanley in 1968 while continuing to farm and ranch. In 1973, their focus shifted to the farm, but when they later moved into Stanley, they decided to re-open a restaurant in a different building. In 1978, they left the business again, returning to the farm until the next year, when they bought two restaurants in Tioga and moved their family there.
Their previous restaurant building in Stanley came up for sale in 1982 so they returned to purchase it for a cafe. They also operated a pool hall across the street. In 1983, they sold their various business interests, except for Joyce’s Cafe.
Cory Rice recalls hanging out and helping at the cafe while growing up. His grandparents, who helped raise him and his sister, instilled in them the importance of contributing to the family business, he said.
The Neethers sold the business at the end of 2006. The new owner, who renamed it My Cafe, left after a year, and Cory and Jamie Rice bought the building at an auction in February 2008.
Cory Rice had been working in the oil field and Jamie Rice was operating a daycare in their home. The Neethers had encouraged them to buy the cafe, and they offered their business advice before their deaths. Alvin died in 2009 and Joyce in 2017.
“I honestly look back at it and say the traditions that we probably kept, the values we probably kept, are Alvin’s and Joyce’s values,” Cory Rice said.
Changes have come with modernization, such as computers and credit cards, although the red and white furnishings remain the same.
“My grandfather loved red and white,” Cory Rice said.
The cafe’s western feel promoted by the Neethers still exists to some extent, including a 1977 mural on one wall. However, the Rices added their own touch with sports memorabilia on another wall.
“Their tradition and our tradition,” Cory Rice explained. “We put the Joyce’s name back on it because that was a good name to carry because of all the work my grandparents put into it.”
He said it wasn’t surprising that he came back to the business. He had tended to gravitate back over the years, such as to assist when his grandparents were experiencing health issues.
“It’s just a magnet to the fridge,” he laughed. “I couldn’t get away from it.”
Jamie Rice had started as a waitress for the Neethers, learning under Joyce about cooking and operating the cafe. Consequently, she adapted quickly to ownership. However, the demands of the job on her prompted Cory Rice to quit his oil-field job to become full-time in the operation, which also allowed the cafe to expand its hours.
Handling much of the cooking, they work separate shifts to maintain hours from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. The evening hours prompted them to adjust their menu to include items such as wings and ribeye steaks.
The cafe’s re-opening came around the time the Bakken oil boom was impacting Stanley.
“That was crazy those first couple years. We were super busy,” Jamie Rice said.
“There was so much going on. The town was expanding,” Cory Rice added. “I was coaching football and baseball at the time in Stanley here. We were just constantly go, go, go. You were running into a melting pot of personalities. You had people from all 50 states.”
The restaurant saw times change from an oil boom to a viral pandemic, and although Cory’s grandparents had warned them about good times and bad in the industry, the swings were more drastic than the Rices were prepared for.
But they persisted, offering takeout and delivery when the pandemic was at its peak. The community also supported them.
“The community really gathered around us so we’re very happy for that. We love our community,” Cory Rice said.
The Rices didn’t take the advice of his grandparents regarding keeping their distance as business owners from community involvement. Jamie serves on the school board, and Cory has been involved on various boards in the community.
“We want Stanley to excel and keep its standard of living here,” Cory Rice said.
As the pandemic has eased, routine has been returning to Joyce’s Cafe. Jamie Rice said the cafe has its regular breakfast crowd and three different coffee groups who meet there. The familiarity means they have a pretty good idea which menu items to prepare and which channel to tune in on the television even before their regulars arrive.
Cory Rice said they have needed to adjust to reach the next generation of diners, though.
“That’s why we’ve had to expand our menu so much,” he said. The cafe also acquired a liquor license to serve alcohol with food, although he said it still promotes a family atmosphere.
The cafe was back to employing three additional workers this spring after having to cut back during the pandemic shutdown. The Rices can’t began to count all the individuals who have worked for the cafe over the 50 years, but it would be numerous.
“There’s been a lot of good people over the years,” Jamie Rice said. “Lots of good friends.”
The Rices are considering a second restaurant along U.S. Highway 2, which ran through the city until rebuilt to bypass downtown in the early 1980s. Closing the Main Street cafe is not an option, though.
“There’s too much tradition here,” Cory Rice said.