This past August marked a year since Melanie and Glenn Leach took over a charming café that is a landmark in Elkmont, the Red Caboose. It is located literally within a few feet of the old caboose car that was once a part of the L & N line, and is one of those places that when I walk in, I feel like I am home.
It was six years ago that the Leach family moved here from Oklahoma, and would somehow feel drawn to the darling café whenever they would drive by. Glenn had retired from his traditional career with AT&T, and now had a team with whom he was doing contract work for AT&T from home. Melanie had been a part of several businesses, including retail and admin, and everywhere she worked, she was famous for her baking and cooking. She did special cooking projects for friends, family, and co-workers, but that is not at all the same as being a full-time restaurant owner. The first year was an intense learning curve, with lots of tweaks to the menu, the hours, the staff, and the marketing platforms; and they decided to celebrate their successful first year by having a street party.
“We wanted to say thank you to everyone who had helped make our first year a success, so we invited vendors to come and set up, had food and fun, and most of all wanted to make the party about the community, and not us,” Melanie told me. She then added, “We have had our challenges, and by the grace of God, we have prevailed.”
One of my favorite things about Melanie and Glenn is how they love to mentor and invest in the lives of several generations. Melanie’s baby is baking, and there have been single moms who have learned her secrets, and she doesn’t mind sharing her successes. For me, the sight of a happy grandchild being comfortably a part of “the family business” always makes me want to be a patron, and Leach grandkids are part of the Red Caboose “experience.” Family businesses are part of what has made our country great, and the Red Caboose Café is no exception. Melanie makes all kinds of pies, cobblers, and several types of cheesecakes. The dessert menu is always changing, and the “fans” could almost fight over which is the best.
Over the last year, “Glenn the Grillmaster” has had his reputation travel beyond the borders of Alabama. On the first and third Friday of each month, Glenn grills ribeye steaks to order, and the special dinner includes a baked potato, salad, and drink for $16.99. “People drive from 2 ½ hours away,” Melanie said. There are regular travelers who always stop on their way to New Orleans. There was a group from Ohio who had learned about the Caboose online and made sure they got to taste what Melanie and Glenn prepared for them.
During the fall and winter, there will be several “meat-and-three” selections from which to choose. Tender pot roast, stews, a pot of pinto beans, chicken stew, mac and cheese, potato casseroles, cornbread muffins, and specialized burgers continue to be strong draws. Melanie also posts the menus daily on places.singleplatform.com as well as Facebook. They have over 100 Google reviews, and the average rating is 4.5 out of 5 stars, which is no small feat for a hometown café!
“We have people who come in every day,” said Melanie. There are families who are regulars, couples who come for date night, an adult father and son who have their “own” table, and people who come for far more than the food. “We do our best to make better connections through food,” Melanie told me.
The heart of the “Caboose Crew” is that everyone feel welcome, have plenty of food that is carefully cooked, and Melanie’s personal goal is to “continue to make things better, whether it’s through the food or by being involved in the community.” If this sounds like the kind of place where you would like to hang your hat, get a hug, and fill your tummy, the Red Caboose Café is ready to serve you lunch or dinner six days a week from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. They are closed on Sundays.
The Red Caboose Café
25483 Railroad St, Elkmont, AL 35620
By Phone: (256) 732-7000
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner