The downtown cafe is an institution in America, ripe with memories, importance, and food that warms your heart as well as your belly. Natalia’s Cafe in downtown Camas has been that institution, going back a half century holding down that corner at 4th and Dallas.
Erica Slothower knows the allure of a downtown cafe very well, as it was five years ago when she strolled into Natalia’s, took a seat in booth number two, and said to her boyfriend “I really want to buy this place.” Keep in mind, she was in no place to buy a cafe and had know idea if it was even for sale. “However, the right pieces fell into place and it soon became mine,” she said.
She was enamored with the potential the cafe had. “I decided to put into practice everything I had learned in my many years working in restaurants, where I worked my way from the bottom to the top.”
Erica said she has a special place in her heart for Camas, the community where she grew up and graduated from school. And she was prepared to lean into the cafe business. “You know, one of the keys to a successful business in a small community is change. But, we humans don’t like change. Of course, this was one of my biggest challenges. When I took over, there wasn’t any room to fail. So I was very gentle with change, doing a little at a time, here and there.”
The bedrock of her business is giving. “Giving is huge in a small community. We found the more we donated, the move we gave, the more support we got.” Rarely is there a downtown event that doesn’t have a Natalia’s Cafe special opening or food donated or manpower volunteered. When just about any non-profit or group of young people need a helping hand, Erica and Natalia’s ask “How can we help?”
Philanthropy aside, Natalia’s always has a sizzling slice a bacon at the ready. It’s the consistency and quality of their menu that keeps regular customers coming back, over and over again, from far and wide. Some of her regulars eat there twice a day! “I believe that on a daily basis, we feed more people than any other restaurant in downtown Camas, and that guests who are traveling through Camas, whether on business or just going for a ride or staying in our beautiful hotel, want to start their adventure at Natalia’s,” Erica said.
Keeping the crowds fed and happy, Erica said hiring the right staff has been key to their success. “Wendy is my key employee, and she makes our open grill a fun and easy atmosphere to eat and work in. Wendy loves what she does, and that helps make Natalia’s the ‘living room’ of downtown Camas.” And you can always count on Wendy to lovingly provide bacon for the pooches that come through town.
Erica said Natalia’s is, at its heart, home cooking … “and with that, you can’t go wrong. I do what I do from my heart, I follow that principle before anything else and it seems to fall into place. I’m sure God plays a huge part in that.”