With heart, Mama Judy’s Cafe fills a void in Downtown Wood River

WOOD RIVER — “Mama Judy” embraces everyone as family and she intends to do the same for the community through a new family-owned restaurant.

Robert and Judy Horgon own Rob’s Construction and several properties, but decided to add one more when a former restaurant space became available a few months ago at 53 E. Ferguson Ave. in Wood River’s main business district.

“We love working with all the people here and wanted to open a restaurant,” said Judy Horgon, whose namesake business, Mama Judy’s Cafe, will open later this week. “We like the downtown feel here. I’d like to see it revive again. We want to help all the businesses here. We put our heart and soul into this and want to be a part of the revitalization.”

Many people entrust their hearts to Horgon, whose nickname “Mama Judy” stuck since her now-adult children’s friends started calling her “Mama.”

“My house was always full,” said Horgon who has lived in Madison County for more than 30 years. “Growing up, the kids were at my house and all the kids started calling me ‘Mama.’ It stuck and when my husband and I go out, people will call me ‘Mama.’”

Horgon is a friend to many generations.

“There’s so many older people, I have a real passion for older people,” she said. “For many, things need to be within walking distance, they don’t cook as much as they used to and they can come to the cafe, somewhere to go and socialize.”

Horgon, of East Alton, hired 30-plus years industry veteran David Beckham, who is the cafe’s chef, recommended by chef Bob Brown, for whom the Horgons are grateful. They also thanked the Kumars, who owned the former Kumar’s Kafe, previously in the new restaurant’s space.

The cafe’s neighbors immediately personally welcomed the “new kid in town.”

“Benjamin Bomkamp at Farmers Insurance greeted us within seconds; Lena Hartstock and her volunteers at Riverbend Resale came over; in no more than thirty minutes, Cleary’s owner Andrew Hagopian was here; Jim with the jewelry studio and Kristen with the hair salon was here; and, Donna with Illinois Cleaners,” Judy Horgon said, making sure to mention everyone by name, as well as their businesses.

Wood River’s Von Dell Gallery & Studios, at 102 E. Ferguson Ave., owned by Gary Conrad, will hang paintings and feature artwork at Mama Judy’s Cafe, where it will be available for purchase.

“Everyone is very nice and welcoming. They’re glad to see someone open here,” Horgon said. “We want everyone to feel welcome. We want to get to know them personally — like coming to a family dinner at your mom’s house.”

Mama Judy’s Cafe’s soups and dressings will be house-made daily, and the menu features the same signature poppy seed salad, made famous by Ellen Kumar. Mama Judy’s Cafe will serve breakfast all day, with a specific selection of breakfast specials for $3.49 from 6 to 11 a.m. every day. The cafe will serve lunch Tuesday through Sunday and offer a regular Friday night fish special, along with one or two more dinner specials to choose from. The cafe is closed Monday. It will be open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; and, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“We are trying to make this cafe’s fare like no one else has, everything we have is homemade, even the gravy,” Beckham said to The Telegraph. “We even are making a homemade corned beef hash. In a month or so, if we find people asking about dinner, we’ll decide whether to be open regularly for dinner.”

Other menu items include sliders, melts, omelets, pancake and waffle specials, French toast and appetizers. The cafe also does carry-out.

Through Rob’s Construction, at 260 Northmoor Place in East Alton, Horgon’s husband led the complete renovation of Mama Judy’s Cafe’s restaurant space with new sunny yellow paint; new drywall; power-washed and remodeled kitchen, including the range hoods, with all new equipment; new tile; and, new ceiling.

“We’re really excited,” said Beckham, originally from Bethalto but now a Wood River resident. “We just have little things to do now.”

Horgon and Beckham thanked Wood River Mayor Cheryl Maguire; Wood River Fire Chief Brendan McKee; and, Wood River Building Inspector Steve Russell.

Maguire included Mama Judy’s Cafe as one of several East Ferguson businesses involved in downtown revitalization.

“Downtown has a brand new store — Almost Famous Boutique; Mama Judy’s and Von Dell Gallery are doing outside renovation; Country Meadows is next to Madison’s, and has the same operating hours; and, Rustic Roots is planning an expansion,” Maguire noted.

A group of merchants is planning a public fall event to showcase the business district and Kristen’s Hair Studio’s Kristen Meyer has spearheaded three “shop small” events.

“And, the re-greening of downtown is evident,” Maguire said. “Since Wood River just received the funding for phase two of the streetscape grant, these enhancements will help make downtown more inviting to shoppers and businesses.”

For more information follow Mama Judy’s Cafe’s Facebook page or call 618-471-9099.

Reach Jill Moon at 618-208-6448 and Twitter @jill_moon.

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