Ahead of the Curve The Talent Café: A Unique and Contemporary Eatery

January 2020

Countryside Village RetirementWhat is so unique about the Talent Café? Well, everything. It is Denise O’Brien’s special brand of hospitality. From the artwork on the walls, the music, the décor, the authentic home-made food, everything is unique, right down to the home-made catsup sauce. Denise painted all the art on the walls, but what’s more amazing is that they were painted in the café, while she was working! They are scenes from her life.

Before coming to Talent and buying the café, Denise lived in Kona, Hawaii. She owned a hair salon for a long time and then worked for Aloha Airlines for a while. Eventually she began making pies and selling the big, delicious desserts for $35 each, delivered to your home in a hat box. I’d say that’s unique too. She wanted to start a business called Beauty and the Bean, where customers could go for hairstyling and coffee. Denise was leaning toward a café kind of enterprise when she saw the Talent Café advertised for sale on the internet. She liked what she saw but did not pursue it at that time. In 2005, wanting to leave Hawaii and thinking that Oregon was appealing, Denise came to the mainland and started looking around the area. She came upon the Talent Café accidentally and remembered seeing it for sale online. It was still for sale, and the previous owner was happy to sell to her.

When Denise bought the Talent Café in December of 2005, it was located at Main Street and Talent Avenue, where the Pump House is now. She ran the restaurant there for six years. In 2011, the café moved to the strip mall on North Pacific Highway, where it is today. The section of the strip mall that is the current site of Talent Café was built to suit. It is a very artistically designed restaurant, decorated well, warm and welcoming. This was accomplished because of Denise’s artistic eye and discerning touch in planning the construction and implementing the set-up and décor of the restaurant.

For fourteen years, in the previous and the current location, the Talent Café has been a success serving breakfast and lunch to the community and to visitors generated through tourism. The café has also hosted many special events in the evenings, and it has been the site of countless business meetings and gatherings over the years. It is one of those restaurants where you feel comfortable settling in, and where you can actually hear well enough to have a conversation while eating. The music is up-beat, not too loud, and acoustics seem to be good.

What is so contemporary about the Talent Café? Well, many things. The café has provided customers with compostable to-go containers and straws since Denise O’Brien bought the café and began operating it in 2005. Senate Bill 90, also called the “Straw Bill,” prohibits giving customers in restaurants a plastic straw unless he or she requests one. The Senate Bill 90 went into effect on January 1, 2020, so the Talent Café has been ahead of the curve for 15 years. The same goes for City of Talent Ordinance 2019-957-0, also in effect January 1, 2020, which prohibits the dispensing of single-use plastic or bioplastic disposable service ware in the City of Talent. The ordinance includes: “…containers, bowls, plates, cups, lids, stirrers, cutlery, hinged or lidded containers (clamshells) and other like items that are designed for one-time use for prepared foods…” The Talent Café has never used or dispensed these types of service ware under Denise’s watch. Denise says, “I hate plastic containers.” The café has been environmentally conscious since the beginning.

Denise has also been aware and responded to a variety of dietary needs during her ownership. The public, in general, has become aware of lactose intolerance, the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, problems with gluten, and other issues in nutrition in the last decade or two. Denise had a customer who needed gluten-free food in 2006, and promptly obtained the ingredients to make gluten-free pancakes. They have been available at the Talent Café ever since. All orders at the café can be made without cheese, without eggs, without meat, with a milk substitute, or any other way that the customer requires.

The menu at the café provides real food that appeals to a wide variety of tastes. Of course, there is regular American fare, also some foods that might appeal to an Asian palate, south of the border tastes, and there is Italian cuisine. How does one little café do all that? Denise herself is Irish. She makes wonderful soups and sauces, a delectable and tasty Eggplant Parmesan, and bakes the most heavenly goods! It is no surprise that almost every bread offered on the menu is baked on site. A loaf of her Cranberry Nut Bread makes a very nice gift. She will also make pies to order. I once ordered Eggplant Parmesan to go. Denise had the cook “deconstruct” it so that it wouldn’t be soggy when I ate it. She gave me instructions on how to put it together later. It was crisp and delicious when I had it for dinner with a friend.

Denise O’Brien feeds several people for free daily. One couple were her loyal customers for eleven years. A few years ago, the wife passed away, and ever since Denise has provided a free breakfast to the surviving spouse. There are others she helps too. She has also tried to support and work with other restaurant owners in town. Sometimes this has been challenging since some are more competitive than cooperative, however, she persists in trying to provide advice and support. Denise certainly supports the City of Talent’s new single-use plastics ban. And she takes care of many, many hungry people in town, or just passing through.

The Talent Café is a little jewel of hospitality and comfort at the same time as it faces contemporary issues relating to our personal health and to the health of the earth. We are lucky to have it available right here in our town.