The Family Atmosphere 

Westbury Café

“Sometimes I come in for dinner, too,” says Gilbert. “There’s a different crowd here at night. The Tuckahoe Rescue Squad comes here. And Henrico Fire. They’ve got good food and they’ve got a good price.”

Located inside the Westbury Pharmacy between the makeup, pantyhose and shampoo displays, and the gourmet grocery section, the Westbury Café features an old-fashioned lunch counter and soda fountain, a glass bakery case, “Prepared Hot Foods to Go” and hand-dipped ice cream in six flavors. The white tables and orange-cushioned chairs are new, but the establishment itself has been around since the pharmacy opened for business in 1949.

You can still get a custom-made limeade here; extra sweet, “unsweet” or sweetened artificially. And a real milkshake, thick or thin, in any desired flavor combination. Slices of chocolate, lemon-chess and French-apple pie beckon from the bakery case. Also black-and-yellow “shadow cake,” three kinds of tarts, cream-horns and various whole cakes. All the baked goods come from the Quality Bake Shop on North Avenue, famed former baked-goods supplier to the long-defunct but iconic Richmond Room at Thalhimers.

Both pharmacy and café were originally built across the street from their current location, but they moved to 8903 Three Chopt Road in 1993. That was the year Alzie Duncan came to work there. When she started, the café had a single home grill, four tables and a lunch-counter. Since then, the menu has grown, the seating capacity has expanded to 98, and the place, says Duncan, has become her “whole life.”

“I love it here. The customers, the atmosphere — it’s like a family. Everyone knows everyone. Our customers just come in and sit. We know what they want. We just bring it to them.’”

Staff-wise, the Westbury is a family. Alzie Duncan’s 25-year-old daughter, Karlene, waits tables and does the hiring. Her son Norman cooks. Her husband, Harvell, delivers orders and her brother Calvin Brown works the cash register. That is why, when pharmacy-owner Joe Oley was looking for someone to take over the café last year, Alzie was a shoo-in.

“We wanted to lease it to a family,” Oley says. “The family atmosphere is very important to us. That’s one of the things that separates us from our competitors.”

When Hurricane Isabel shut off the power last year, the café’s customers showed up as usual. But instead of sitting down, they went to work.

“We had people coming in here with full coffee pots, people pitching in to help, busing dishes, waiting tables, cleaning — they did everything,” remembers Alzie. “We never even asked. They just did it.”

Something similar happened when the café needed new furniture. The breakfast regulars “told us where we could get the best tables and chairs, ordered them, put them together, delivered them and put them in place,” says Alzie. “We just watched.”

The Duncans return customer loyalty with personalized service and a large selection of choices. They supplement the three-page menu with regular $5.95 nightly specials — Monday is Chicken and Rib Night, Wednesday is All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti Night and Friday is Fish and Chips Night. In addition, as most Westbury regulars know, the Duncans are open to suggestions.

“They’ll come and say, ‘I haven’t had pot roast for a while,’” says Karlene. “Or ‘How about some chicken and dumplings?’ Or maybe, ‘Tomorrow’s supposed to be cold. Why don’t you make some chili?’ And we do. People know they can get what they want here.”

At no time is this truer than in the mornings, when Johnson is in charge of eggs. “She is the breakfast magnet around here,” says Alzie. “She can cook your eggs just the way you want your eggs. Scrambled, over easy, over light, over medium, over hard. Fluffy, jiggly, sunny side up … People come in here, and if they don’t see Evelyn, they might not order eggs.”

Breakfast has been big ever since Alzie instituted the $2.85 “Sunrise Special,” served Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. But the café’s biggest draw — the feeling of being welcome and of belonging — can’t be found on the menu.

It’s just there. — Laura LaFay

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