At the four-way stop in Flint, there’s a restaurant that always stays busy. Since opening in March, the 4 Way Caf￩ has seen a steady stream of customers, many of them regulars, who say they enjoy the atmosphere, service and good food.
Restaurant owner Christoph Stockhammer, 36, is no stranger to the food scene. He’s been cooking in the kitchen since he was a teenager. But this is his first time to try his hand at his own place.
In the past 13 years in the U.S., the native Austrian has worked for Eagles Bluff on Lake Palestine, Emerald Bay Country Club and Joseph’s Catering.
Stockhammer remained at Joseph’s until February when he left to open his restaurant.
“It’s almost like a bucket list,” he said of opening it. When you’re working in a kitchen for that long, you think about ways you would run the restaurant if it was your own, he said.
“It’s almost like you have to try it at some point and this opportunity it was really, I think, kind of low risk,” he said.
Born and raised in Austria, Stockhammer grew up next to a restaurant, and the owner’s son was his friend. So he grew up playing in restaurants and working in them. After high school, he started an apprenticeship at a hotel.
Four years later, he came out with a culinary certification, and at 19, started his mandatory military service for eight months.
When he completed that, he went back to working in kitchens in Germany, Austria and on a cruise ship until 1999, when he got a short-term position in the U.S.
It was at the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island. Opened in 1887, the hotel is famous for its front porch, which is deemed the longest in the world, according to the website, and its role in movies such as “This Time For Keeps” and “Somewhere in Time.”
Stockhammer worked there for one season, about 10 months, and while there met Lora, the woman who would eventually become his wife.
Mrs. Stockhammer is from Athens, so the two decided to live in East Texas. They got married in 2000 in the dining room of what was then the Mansion on the Hill, now Villa Montez. After their marriage, Stockhammer started working in kitchens around the area.
He said he drove past the building that he now leases for years and watched the different restaurants operate in it. In December, when the last restaurant shut down, he realized he had an opportunity. So he took it.
With a small dining area and artwork reminiscent of Stockhammer’s homeland, the cafe offers a stark contrast to the noise level and bustling environment at many restaurants today.
“What I had in mind is what you see,” he said. “I never wanted a big restaurant.”
Stockhammer spends most of his time in the kitchen making the food, although he does have another cook who helps in the mornings. He has a dishwasher and several servers as well.
The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinners-to-go. It’s open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
During the weekdays, the dining room closes at 4 p.m. and they stay open until 6 p.m. for people to pick up casseroles, salads and bread to go.
Specialty menu items include Wiener schnitzel, the Benedict panini and lemon blueberry pancakes.
Lunch entrees also include burgers (beef or turkey), a variety of sandwiches and chicken fried steak. There also are salads and for breakfast, omelets.
Stockhammer has an easy method for selecting his offerings.
“I try to keep it simple and more sandwiches,” he said. “I really just put every sandwich I like to eat on the menu.”
He said the restaurant offers a nice break from the mainstream franchises and his customers agree.
Jacksonville resident Michael Kirkpatrick, 56, who is self-employed, has been a regular customer since July and said he likes everything about the restaurant. Kirkpatrick likes his meals fixed a particular way and said many restaurants won’t fix anything that’s not on the menu, but Stockhammer will.
He said he regularly gets two hamburger patties with two slices of onion and a lemon. No bread. He’s been eating that since he was 12, he said.
“It’s very healthy and extremely good,” he said.
He said the caf￩’s food has a unique twist to it. Although it has the homegrown aspect, it’s also has touches that make it special such as fresh ingredients and dipping sauces on the side for some dishes.
Gayla Springer, of Tyler, usually meets her husband twice a week for lunch at the restaurant. She said they enjoy the food and the lunch specials are great.
“We like the atmosphere, the quick service,” said Mrs. Springer, 48, who works in Bullard ISD.
Stockhammer said he hopes the business continues as it is now. Although operating a restaurant is a lot of work, he said for the most part, he likes what he does.
“It’s always interesting,” he said of cooking. “You always get to see knew people every day. It’s fun. Every day is different.”