A whirlwind romance turned tragic in only a few short months. After knowing one another since high school at Knox Central, Jennifer Patterson and Mark Mills reconnected in August 2013 and became inseparable. Patterson was a stay-at-home mom, and Mills, who had to drive daily back and forth to Harlan County, was looking to find a job closer to home.
“We were just sitting down to dinner one evening at our favorite restaurant and discussing the décor,” said Patterson, herself a seasoned entrepreneur. “I told Mark how nice it would be to have our own little place where he could cook and I could sell my antiques at the same time.”
“That’s a nice little dream,” Mills replied.
And the dream did come true, but not exactly as Jennifer Patterson had expected.
Within a couple of months, the pair had signed a lease for a small commercial space at the end of Knox Street and directly on Barbourville’s courthouse square.
“Mark was so picky about everything that would decorate the place,” said Patterson. “He was obsessed with finding just the right ‘Coke Girl’ for the wall. He’d spend hours on eBay trying to find the right one. I was so jealous of that ‘Coke Girl.’”
By the first of April 2014, Old Way Café was ready for business. However, Mills set the opening back twice over, finally settling on an opening date of April 29.
“I just started having the feeling that if I could get him in there that he would calm down and everything would be alright,” said Patterson.
But fate beat her to the punch as a mere five days before the Old Way Café was to open its doors, Mark Mills took his own life.
“I was so heartbroken, I didn’t think I could open the café without him,” said Patterson.
The now sole owner of Old Way Café spent hours praying to God for guidance on what to do about the business. It was the words spoken to her weeks before by her boyfriend that kept coming back to her.
“Mark said, ‘Pretty, (he always called me Pretty) you just shine, and here in downtown is where you were meant to be.”
So, Jennifer Patterson quit second-guessing herself and opened the doors of the Old Way Café on June 1, 2014, and hasn’t looked back since.
The restaurant boasts homemade cooking and daily specials for the myriads of visitors and residents of downtown Barbourville. There is also fresh-roasted Manchester Street coffee, as well as numerous homemade desserts. Delivery and catering are also available.
“I know I didn’t go through this experience for no reason,” said Patterson. “God has shown me that good can always come from something bad. He gave me the strength and courage to continue what Mark and I had started together. Mark may not have been here when the doors first opened, but I feel he’s smiling down on all of us today.”
Old Way Café
Hours of Operation: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday
Address: 100 Court Square, Barbourville
Phone Number: 606-546-6367