By Erika Webb
The old house on Woodland Boulevard seems to return a viewer's gaze. Like many of its kind, it has a personality. Welcoming, protective even, it is a vault of memories and a caretaker of time.
How many homecoming parades have marched by?
Years have turned kids into grandparents.
The surrounding neighborhood eroded, almost to obscurity, before a recent resurgence.
Now, the old Mr. Lucky's across the street is renovated and up for sale. The million-dollar Intermodal Transportation Facility near the corner of Euclid Avenue and Woodland Boulevard is almost finished. Conrad Park and Spec Martin Memorial Stadium host college baseball and football. The DeLand Greenway, a bike and pedestrian trail, runs parallel to South Woodland Boulevard along Alabama Avenue to the east.
"Things are looking up at this end of town," said Collette Koop, co-owner of the Old House Café at 412 S. Woodland Blvd.
Juanita Koop never shooed her four kids out of the kitchen. Instead she'd give them a job to do.
The fruits of her patience have been enjoyed by fans of her daughter's cooking at the old house on the south end of DeLand's historic district for nearly 10 years.
The family moved into the house in 1971 after relocating from Fort Lauderdale.
"It's a funny story," Ms. Koop said.
"It was getting crowded in Fort Lauderdale and my mother wanted to raise her small children in a small town. She also wanted to fix up an old house. My dad traveled a lot. He came through DeLand and saw this house," Ms. Koop explained. "It had weeds all around it. No one had lived here for 15 years. He said, I'll bring her up and show her and she'll forget all about it."
Mr. Koop underestimated his wife's determination, and her intuition.
"She got out of the car, looked at it and said 'I feel like I'm home,'" Ms. Koop said. "That was it."
They moved when school let out in June and got busy. New floors, new roof, new kitchen and lots of painting readied the house to be "home for all these years".
There was a brief period of culture shock that first summer, but after school started and friends were made the four kids began to adjust.
"The friends I met when I first moved here are still my friends today," Ms. Koop said.
On a recent Friday night, some of those friends and offspring enjoyed a girls' night out in the old house.
Two in the group were particularly fond of Juanita, who passed away in 1995. They see her affinity for all things vintage when they walk through the door. Along with a passion for cooking from scratch, she passed to her daughter an appreciation for eclectic antique furniture and accessories.
The place is filled with them, creating that comforting feeling of being home. Even if it's only a lunch hour interlude, the vibe there is enough to elevate spirits dampened by AOS -- Awful Office Syndrome.
What once was a side porch is now the main inside dining area. Large windows overlook lush gardens planted around the brick patio area out back. There isn't one corner of the homestead-turned-eatery that isn't attached to a family member. Part of the café's charm comes from Ms. Koop's love for the family home.
She said the house welcomed its adult kids back on more than one occasion.
"Each of us has lived here at some time ... you know ... different life circumstances," she said, chuckling.
The old house eatery idea took root in 1997 while Ms. Koop was working as a catering manager in a local restaurant.
She thought about it and saved her money for seven years before opening July 7, 2004, "right before three hurricanes," she said, grinning.
The siblings all pitched in to help get the restaurant open, sharing a burden.
"It was definitely a group effort, a money pit for all of us," she said.
But worth it in the end.
"They can come eat anytime they want, and bring a friend," she said.
There are scenes of "old Florida" painted on the wall by Ms. Koop's sister Sandra, who teaches an art class in the restaurant every Tuesday from 3-5 p.m.
Their father built the original fish pond, which was kept as a tribute to him and expanded to become focal point of the outside eating area.
In the beginning, Mr. Koop had the other kind of reservations.
"My dad said, 'Are you sure you can make a go of this?'" Ms. Koop said. "I said, 'Do you like the way I cook?' He said, 'yeah'. I said OK then."
She smiled at the memory.
Her father passed away two months before the restaurant opened.
It's possible one of the reasons Old House Café survived three acts of God and the Great Recession is that Ms. Koop stays as cool as the cucumbers in her salads, come what may.
She had an anniversary party booked for the day after Charley blasted through. The power was out, but she reassured her guests there was gas for cooking.
Thankfully power was restored at noon the day of the party because there was no plan B for air conditioning.
Her menu is anything but run of the mill. Everything from soup to bread to dessert is homemade.
Before opening she did her homework.
"I went out to eat a lot and you couldn't get half a sandwich, soup and salad. That's where the trio came from," she said.
Her son, Jay who also loves to cook, came up with what may be the most popular lunch item, the Exotic Bird Sandwich -- grilled marinated chicken breast with a blend of artichoke and cheese melted together with lettuce and tomato on a fresh roll.
At the end of the week weary workers can swing by to eat or get gourmet dinners to go. Steak, chicken and seafood dinners are prepared Thursday and Friday nights from 5:30 to close.
Where else can you get Coquille Seafood Crepes to go?
Ms. Koop does not eat processed food, so she doesn't serve it in her restaurant.
"Everything I make ... I know exactly what's in it," she said. "I order from an organic company that purchases from local farmers ... chicken, eggs and all cuts of beef ... I research everything and I plan ahead."
For produce, she goes to the farmers market in New Smyrna Beach.
"The growers from Samsula always have what's in season and their prices are pretty reasonable," Ms. Koop said.
"I'm concerned about what goes into the food we eat," she added. "You have to eat as healthy as you can afford to keep your body healthy."
A born nurturer, Ms. Koop quietly tends the myriad plants out back. She helps those who are in need. And she spends time with her young granddaughter, never shooing her out of the kitchen. There's an element to well-received cooking that isn't taught in culinary school. It's the cup of caring added to every dish. It's a staple in her kitchen, the family kitchen in the home where her heart is.