At the Skyway Cafe at Felts Field, the coffee starts pouring at 6 a.m. So do the tall tales.
“Everything may be exaggerated, but the truth is always with us,” said a coffee drinker sitting under photos of Cessnas, Beechcrafts and Citabrias at the pilots’ table.
“Don’t believe a thing he says,” warned the man across the table as he poured syrup over his pancakes.
“I’m broke but I don’t lie,” said a retiree sitting nearby.
“The only lie I can think of is that I believe you,” another man growled.
The regulars at the pilots’ table change throughout the day like the wind patterns. But there’s comfort knowing that some things stay the same.
More than five months after a fire shut down the popular restaurant in the historic Felts Field airport terminal, the Skyway Cafe is back and it’s business as usual.
When owners Terry and Bob Maxfield reopened the cafe on Nov. 29, they had a standing-room-only crowd.
“It’s been so busy,” said Terry, running from the kitchen where she fries up pancakes and hashbrowns.
“They just keep coming back,” Bob said. “I’ve seen a lot of new faces in here, too.”
Serving up home cooking and camaraderie, the Skyway is a destination for out-of-town pilots who fly in for a bite to eat and for locals who taxi their planes from nearby hangers just for a cup of joe.
The lunchtime crowd starts filtering in around 11 a.m. They are mechanics, pilots, flight instructors. They are office workers and police officers. They are retirees who have driven across town for a bowl of Terry’s chicken noodle soup or a slice of her rhubarb pie.
At the pilots’ table, which sits under a flashing blue light that is a tribute to those who have demolished taxiway lights, the conversation is as turbulent as flying into a blizzard.
“Our temperament is always the same - nasty,” jokes retired military pilot Al Creager, who comes in mid-mornings to chat with other pilots.
“It’s pretty much the same thing you’ll find with any group of guys at any restaurant,” said Bill Traum, a business consultant and flight instructor. “It’s smart remarks and leathery comments.”
It’s talk about planes, flying techniques and weather. And don’t forget the food.
Plates of pancakes and sweet, sticky cinnamon rolls slide over the swivel-seat lunch counter.
Old photos hang on the seafoam-green walls and model planes hang from the cafe’s ceiling.
The remodeled restaurant has remained true to its historic roots. “It’s a 1930s style. We wanted to keep it that way,” Terry said.
The cafe at Felts Field started 60-some years ago as the Zoom In lunch counter. It gradually grew and took over the north side of the air terminal. No one knows exactly when it became the Skyway Cafe.
While remodeling after the fire in June, the Maxfields added a bigger kitchen, a lobby and vestibule to the 1,300-square foot eating area. They put up a fence for outside dining in the summer.
It took almost six months to complete the remodeling work because the Spokane Airport Board owns the building and had to wait for bids on the contract, Terry said.
But Terry, who bought the business last year after managing and cooking at the Skyway for six years, was already planning improvements to the cafe, which had not been remodeled since the 1930s.
Last spring, she began working on plans for adding insulation to the concrete walls, widening the kitchen and replacing the old windows with new ones that don’t fog when the grill fires up.
Now the cafe is up and running again, she has plans to start serving dinner on the weekends sometime next year.
In the meantime, the ever-flowing coffee and sizzling hashbrowns keep customers happy.
“It’s a drawing card for the airport. I can’t believe how dead this airport was when this place was shut down,” said Jack Johnson, who learned to fly 57 years ago, and who now comes in the cafe two or three times a day. “You can go to any airport, and I guarantee this is the friendliest.”
While the cafe was closed this summer, a group of regulars set up a makeshift coffee shop in one of the airport hangers. Bob and Terry supplied the coffee pot.
The Maxfields hang photos that customers have given to them on the cafe’s walls. A retired FAA inspector and his wife built the tables, which are decorated with photos of old bombers and air buses.
While she cooks, Terry chats from the kitchen with regulars. Bob sits at the pilots’ table reading the paper.
Terry, who met Bob at the cafe six years ago when he flew his Cessna 172 into Felts Field, said they keep the place true to its aviation roots.
“We really do it for the pilots,” she said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (2 color)