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Local entrepreneur serves it up fresh in downtown WP’s newest eatery

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This week's neighbor is no stranger and you might even call her famous.

Toni Chritton Johnson of West Plains has been a business owner here for decades, feeding the locals while supplying fine wines and entertainment in the historic Opera House on the square. She's been invested in our community while pursuing her acting career on and off, but has always returned home to offer our city a little touch of class.

From Ropers, to Wild Vine, to Cafe 37 and now, Encore Eatery, Toni hasn’t let a pandemic stop her from rearranging her business life to make better sense. Closing Wild Vine and moving it to the Opera House meant saving money while adding another place to eat on the square.

When I asked her what led her to do this now, her reply was quick: “Insanity.” But for those working downtown especially, having more options for lunch close to work is ideal.

Toni's personal life changed a bit too, she moved back to their farm and beat a personal health issue while taking on another establishment, Encore Eatery. All while the world slowed down, she didn't.

I asked her how different this operation is due to COVID-19 protocols.  

“It was definitely harder, but all my staff wear a mask at all times, hand washing is a must and they are trained to sanitize properly,” she answered.

What began as carry out and delivery only, Toni's newest restaurant, located in the historic Opera House on the square experienced a high demand for dining in, which led to offering limited seating now, along with plans to open for dinner in the near future. And for those interested in catering, the GopherIt delivery service, aka “The Uber Lady,” here in West Plains will deliver your meal for you and you can order right from their Facebook page.

The staff at Encore Eatery take pride to offer unique foods that can't be found elsewhere in town, like their Monte Cristo sandwich or the loaded baked potato pizza that caught my eye. All the while they also serve the staples, like a good hamburger and fries. Their lunches are made fresh on demand with many items made from scratch like their french fries and potato chips.

I'm so proud of all our neighbors who have opened a business last year during the hardest of times, yet they proceed to helping our community be the best we can be. Thank you all, you are amazing! There is a bright future for Encore Eatery, which has big plans once COVID allows.

Toni hopes to offer beer and wine tastings, theme wine dinners, live music along with a piano singalong, murder mystery dinners and guest chefs’ suppers.

If you miss the Wild Vine or Cafe 37, give the Encore Eatery a try, lunch is being served 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Good luck to Toni and her staff, and thank you for helping downtown West Plains grow a bit more. Toni is sharing a recipe that she says will probably be on the dinner menu when it's available.  

SUGAR SHACK DUMPLINGS

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup flour

2-3 teaspoons cinnamon

6 ounces cold butter

Apple cider for poaching apples

Granny Smith apple (preferred)

Puff pastry dough sheets

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in the butter.

Peel and core apples. Poach apples in cider until soft. Remove from liquid and cool.

Fill cavity of each apple with sugar mixture.

Cut puff pastry into 8 squares. Brush squares with egg.

Place apple in center of squares. Wrap course to top center, pinch corners together.

Brush outside with egg, sealing pinch point.

Sprinkle with sugar to ensure desired color (golden brown).

Bake 15 minutes at 325 degrees.

Remove from oven.  

Drizzle with choice of caramel sauce. Serve with vanilla ice cream.  

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