Photos by L.G. Patterson
Vanessa and Jake Leitza are no strangers to the mid-Missouri restaurant scene.
As Jake Leitza says, the mother and son duo have spent their whole lives in the food industry, working at several restaurants over the years before they teamed up to reopen a local favorite in Katfish Katy’s in April 2021. Sadly, the arrangement didn’t last and the doors to Katfish Katy’s closed in early 2022. (The building and surrounding property are being donated to The Nature Conservancy.)
But the Leitzas were quick to start planning their next move, finding the future home of their next venture in February. “We walked in, and it was perfect,” Jake Leitza says. The family, along with friends and past employees, worked tirelessly to clean up the location and, in late July, opened The Old Neighborhood Cafe near Cherry Hill. “We used YouTube videos and learned how to do the construction ourselves,” Jake Leitza says, noting that both he and Vanessa were working full-time jobs at the time.
Now, the Leitza family uses the knowledge they gained from Katfish Katy’s to successfully run the new café. “It really taught us how to budget, and how to save on food costs and labor without cutting corners and quality of product,” Jake Leitza says.
It’s safe to say the business plan is working so far. With family to-go meals, catering events and everyday lunch options, there’s definitely something for everybody in the neighborhood. “We offer a lot of very healthy options, but if you want something heavy, we have heavy options as well,” Jake Leitza says. “Everybody loves it so much.”
Most recently, the family decided to tackle an always changing flatbread, highlighting a new flavor combination each day using local ingredients. But the focus on local ingredients isn’t limited to this particular special. The Leitzas work with local farmers and ranchers to bring fresh fruits, vegetables and meats to The Old Neighborhood Cafe to use in each menu item.
Even though the pair work together, Jake and Vanessa Leitza still spend quality time together outside of the restaurant. “We all still go to mom’s house and cook and drink together and have a good time,” he says. After all, that’s where it all began. “Our roots run deep when it comes to food and hanging out in the kitchen,” Jake Leitza says, adding that you could never say “no” when grandma Theresa offered a third helping. The Leitzas now combine some of Theresa’s secrets with old recipes to make the most perfect mouthwatering dishes.
After a very successful opening, business at The Old Neighborhood Cafe took a bit of a hit when school began in August, with orders slowing down. That’s until a simple idea turned things around. “We started doing delivery services to try and add the convenience factor,” he says. “That picked business right back up.”
As for the future, the Chicago natives hope to remain in Columbia. “This is where we are going to stay, I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Jake Leitza says. They hope to continue building the business, looking for new opportunities along the way, he says. “Our ultimate goal is always to create something and build it as much as we can,” he says. “Eventually, we want to build our own custom building.”
The current location of the café allows for a wide range of customers, making it a truly neighborhood spot. “There are nursing homes, there are a lot of families and single people,” he says. “We are able to cater to each and every one of them.”
People can try the new eatery from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit oldneighborhoodcafe.com.