About Magnolia Cafe
Written by: James Fox-Smith
A meal at the Magnolia Café is always a social event, but exactly what kind of event depends on what you come looking for. On any given lunchtime, the gravel parking lot fills fast as locals descend on this historic river town’s beloved gathering place to gossip, wave, and indulge a craving for that French Dip po-boy or Chicken Pesto Pizza that they might have been ordering since childhood. Visitors come from near—or far if there’s a riverboat in town—drawn to the jaunty signs, the screened-porch seating, and the large, pink statue of a pig that lounges by the door. (His name is Gustav, by the way.) On a Friday night, as the band tunes up and the Christmas lights blink on, everyone comes to share a drink, a dance, or maybe a grilled ribeye special in the one place that, no matter where you come from, always feels like home.
Good Things + Good People = Good Place
When it comes to gathering places, St. Francisville never needed a town square because since 1982 it has had The Mag. That’s the year a young Robin Marshall, with help from her dad, Roland, opened a natural foods store offering things like fresh-baked pita and home-grown sprouts long before anyone in St. Francisville had heard of alfalfa. Within a year, though, the store had become a café. “The restaurant evolved by whomever I hired,” remembered Robin. “Whatever their talents were, that’s how it evolved. And although Robin retired a year ago, her “take-good-things-and-good-people-and-put-them-together-in-interesting-ways” approach lives on in her daughter, Skye, and son-in-law, Danny, who took the reins in 2018. Now, Skye, Danny, and family are finding exciting ways to make The Mag more of a community gathering place than ever, while keeping the basic ingredients—great food, music, family, and friendship—exactly the same.
A Village Within a Village
The Magnolia stands at the center of what has come to be known as “The Magnolia Village” – a cluster that consists of a 1938 motor court listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Birdman Coffee & Books which is run by Skye’s aunt Lynn, and the café itself. That means four generations of the same family—from Robin’s dad, who carves the bird sculptures for which the coffeeshop is named, to Skye’s six children—all pouring heart, soul, and considerable personality into this place. Skye and Danny also operate 3V Tourist Court, its original cabins whimsically updated and available for overnight rental. Recently they also realized a long-nurtured dream by replacing the gravel parking lot between the cabins with a lawn, complete with café lights, firepits, and Adirondack chairs for making the most of the outdoor space between the three establishments. Several of Skye’s older children work with her at The Mag; the younger ones totter in and out—much as Skye did when she was a little girl. “It’s the complete package—we have Birdman with great coffee and breakfast, we have lunch and dinner here at The Mag, and cabins to rent,” she said, pointing out the hair salon and photographer C.C. Lockwood’s art gallery, both of which are 3V residents. “On weekend nights, you can see people jamming out on the green space. It’s a real hangout spot.”
“What’s really neat about being here for forty years is you have kids who worked here when they were in high school and college, who are now running businesses in town. And their kids now work here,” said Skye. “It’s the heart of the community, and I think it’s a constant for people. They know they can come here and dance on Friday nights, and let their little ones come here and dance right along with the 80-year-olds. It’s a generational thing.”