After 20 years, Puff and Stuff’s owner to take time for herself

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 26, 2001

Under a calico valance, the spring sun shines through the window of Puff and Stuff on Broadway.

Monday, March 26, 2001

Under a calico valance, the spring sun shines through the window of Puff and Stuff on Broadway. An Alliant Energy employee wanders in to sit at an old-fashioned lunch counter, smoke a cigarette and drink a cup of coffee.

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For 20 years, downtown employees have raved over Eileen Schmitz’s homemade potato soup and &uot;made-wrong&uot; loose-meat sandwiches. Coffee clubs have gathered here for a cup of Joe, a slice of Schmitz’s coconut cream pie and leisurely conversation. But on March 29, she will refill their cups for the last time.

Puff and Stuff will continue under new ownership, but Schmitz’s decision to sell the restaurant marks the end of an era for many.

&uot;It will be different for a lot of people that come in there,&uot; said customer Dee Peterson, who meets a group of friends for coffee at Puff and Stuff nearly every day.

&uot;I retired several years ago and I need that,&uot; she said. &uot;To get up in the morning and get together.&uot;

Several coffee groups gather at the restaurant. Many spend hours drinking refills and shooting the breeze.

&uot;I let them do it too,&uot; Schmitz said. &uot;I went out of my way to get a big table so 13 can sit at a table. Plus I don’t kick them out.&uot;

&uot;Everybody’s upset that she’s leaving because they won’t know what to do with themselves,&uot; said employee Lynae Anderson, who has worked for Schmitz on and off for 18 years.

&uot;Oh, they’ll find another place,&uot; Schmitz said.

Schmitz bought Puff and Stuff with her widowed daughter-in-law in 1981, shortly after her son Mike was killed in a motorcycle accident. She had been laid off from her job at Miami Margarine and needed something to distract her from her grief.

&uot;I needed to work,&uot; she said. &uot;To be very busy.&uot;

Six months later, Cheryl quit the business to spend more time with her daughter Melissa. Schmitz thought about looking for another partner, but decided to take on the restaurant by herself. She expanded the food offerings in the tobacco, card and magazine store, and added meatloaf, macaroni salad and other specialties to the menu. She opened at 5 a.m. on weekdays selling bag lunches, coffee and rolls. About a year after her son Mike died, she lost another son in a motorcycle accident. She sunk her energy into her business.

Days at the shop were long, regularly 12 to 15 hours, and Schmitz handled most of them by herself.

&uot;She had everything on her little shoulders,&uot; Peterson said. &uot;She’s had to do everything, to do the shoveling out in front.&uot;