“Once upon a time, a little girl named Gretchen stirred up a pot of dreams – a peck of flour, a pinch of spice, a cup of sugar, oh so nice.
She sang and baked and sampled (perhaps a bit too much) and was happy.”
Gretchen Halverson was that little girl, and as a child, she loved to climb up on the kitchen cupboards and play with her mother’s spices.
Years later, Halverson’s mother, Patty Vaux, and Cindy Oerter bought the South Park Retirement House in Waupaca.
It became the Garden Park House, and Halverson cooked for its 12 residents.
Later, they turned the house in front of the Garden Park House into the Green Fountain Inn, and Halverson made muffins for the guests.
When the Secret Garden Cafe opened within the bed and breakfast, Halverson cooked alongside her mother and daughter Danielle.
At the encouragemnet of Vaux and Oerter, Halverson enrolled at Fox Valley Technical College to study culinary arts.
She did so for about 1 1/2 years, until balancing family, work and school became difficult.
She worked at the Crystal Cafe, in Iola, for about one year before taking a position at the Waupaca Thrift Store.
During her six years there, she served as the assistant manager.
Soon, she felt the pull of the kitchen and returned to the Crystal Cafe.
Halverson worked there another six years, leaving last October as she worked to open her own restaurant.
She opened Little Fat Gretchen’s at 108 S. Main St., in downtown Waupaca, on Dec. 18.
“I just love people, and I like to cook, too. I figured it was a good combo,” Halverson said.
It was not the first time she considered starting such a business.
Six years ago, she looked at the Waupaca Cafe, and four years ago, she heard a rumor Bonni Miller was closing the Chez Marche Cafe. The rumor turned out to not be true.
Last summer, Halverson received an email, saying Miller was closing the business. This time, it was true.
In August, Halverson gave her notice at the Crystal Cafe and began preparing to open Little Fat Gretchen’s.
Hammer City Carpentry did the remodeling.
“The first month, I didn’t know what I was going to name it,” Halverson said. “I wanted to have a double meaning.”
It was her mother’s idea to call it “Little Fat Gretchen,” the name of a book written in 1934 by Emma L. Brock.
That book is part of Halverson’s story.
‘One day at school, a book appeared on the library shelf called ‘Little Fat Gretchen.’
The children teased and taunted her until a wise and caring teacher whisked the book from the shelf and tucked it into her desk.
At the end of the school year, the teacher presented her with the book.
‘Have faith in yourself and follow your dreams.'”
Halverson was in kindergarten the first time the book appeared in her classroom.
Her teacher put it away, after Halverson was teased about it.
“I was a chubby child,” Halverson said.
In third grade, the teasing happened again when classmates noticed the book on a shelf.
Again, her teacher put the book away.
“On the last day of school, she (Mrs. Jome) gave it to me,” Halverson said. “She was always my favorite teacher. So, that’s the story.”
Halverson’s own “Gretchen” story is written on a wall in her cafe. It was her mother’s idea to do so.
Green is a color used in the book, and Halverson decided to tone it down when she selected the shade of it for the cafe’s walls.
Her mother wrote the story on a wall and also drew a picture of Little Fat Gretchen.
Halverson’s “Gretchen” looks different than the one in the book, so they would not have to worry about copyright issues.
Local artists approached Halverson about hanging their artwork on the walls, adding to the cafe’s decor.
Halverson’s step-brother, Ryan Thompson, matched the font from the book’s cover for her sign and also made the green “Eat” sign.
Her father, Tom Halverson, also provided help and support throughtout the project.
With the restaurant connected to The Bookcellar, Halverson got the double meaning she wanted.
John Ryan, the owner of the bookstore and her landlord, presented Halverson with another copy of “Little Fat Gretchen” on the day she opened.
When it came time to build the food menu, Halverson knew she wanted flavorful items.
“I knew the food that I like to eat, and I wanted to do something different for this area,” she said. “There are some Mexican things, some Greek on the menu.”
Little Fat Gretchen’s is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., with Halverson’s plan to be open daily beginning Friday, Feb. 1. There is free Wi-Fi.
When summer approaches, she will also be open on Friday nights for fish fry.
The cafe features Just Coffee, a 100 percent Fair Trade roaster out of Madison, and also Halverson’s bakery.
People may call 715-258-0132 to order cakes, cookies, pies and bars.
When it came to open the doors for the first time, she looked in the mirror that morning and said, “I’m going to work today.”
Gretchen followed her dream, and when a wonderful opportunity arose, she led her family and friends through a storefront door.
Little Fat Gretchen . . . had arrived.