From Rusty’s to Duke’s: Taunton Corner Café being sold to Texas couple
Santa delivered a Christmas gift to Rusty Rhymer a few days early. With a month to go before Rusty’s Corner Cafe in Taunton was set to close after Rhymer had served patrons for the past 30 years, a young couple came forward and agreed to purchase the business.
Brad and Courtney Norcutt of Houston, TX will become the new owners and have been training with Rhymer the past few days, learning the ropes of the restaurant business and meeting some of the customers coming in to eat.
“It’s been fun,” said Courtney. “The people have been so nice here. I think we’ll be happy here.” The Norcutts, who were married earlier this year, are expecting their first child in March.
Brad is a native of Tracy and Courtney is originally from Toronto, Canada.
Brad spent 20 years in the U.S. Army, where he became a Master Sergeant and a Green Beret. More recently, he has been working as a commercial construction diver in the Houston area.
Brad’s sister, Robin Briggs, who works at the State Bank of Taunton across the street from Rusty’s Corner Cafe, phoned her brother a few weeks ago and told him about the town’s restaurant being for sale. “She asked me if I was interested in buying a restaurant and I thought about it for four seconds and said ‘Sure’,” laughed Brad.
“And Courtney was standing right by me when I was on the phone so I asked her thoughts about the idea and she hesitated about four seconds, too, and said ‘Why not?”
So the Norcutts contacted the local realtor, were sent the restaurant’s books and saw that it was a good investment. “So here we are,” Brad noted. “We came here about three weeks ago to talk to Rusty and look the place over. I’ve actually eaten here before when I was helping my brother-in-law on the farm.
But I had never been past the first booth.” The Norcutts are living with Brad’s parents on Lake Sarah, south of Tracy, and commuting to Taunton each day for training until they sell their home in Houston and find a place to live closer to the cafe. The papers will be signed soon and the closing date is set for Dec. 31.
Rhymer, who lost his wife Paula to cancer 16 months ago, will take some time for himself after the paper work for the sale of his café is completed and embark on a well-deserved vacation to Florida on Jan. 1.
“I plan to stay living in Taunton. This is my home. And my wife lives just on the outside of town,” Rhymer said, referring to her burial site.
“So I’m not ready to leave here.” Once they officially take over the café, the Norcutts are planning to re-name the establishment “Duke’s Corner Café”. “Duke is the nickname of my grandfather (Quentin Norcutt) and also the name we are giving to our son when he is born.”
Their son will be named Duke Alex Norcutt. Alex is in reference to Brad’s nephew who was killed in a farm accident when he was 16 years old.
No other changes to the restaurant are being planned by the Norcutts at this time. As they are progressively learning the particulars of running a business, the Norcutts were asked what has been the hardest part so far. “My shorthand,” laughed Courtney. “I’m trying to abbreviate things I write down so it goes faster, but I need to get better at it.”
“And I think I need different shoes because my feet hurt,” she added, while getting accustomed to being on her feet for long periods of time.
Among her duties at the cafe, Courtney will be a waitress and bookkeeper, Brad will serve as the cook. They plan to keep the catering end of the business, too. And they will benefit by several of the current employees planning to continue working at the restaurant. Brad has been working side-by-side with Rusty in the kitchen.
“Just setting a pace and getting my timing down,” said Brad, when asked what has been difficult for him so far in his training. “I just need to get used to how fast to work and getting better organized.” Brad, who has some limited cooking experience from before he entered the Army, said he is getting more comfortable each day, albeit for one baking mishap.
“I had the cookies in the oven for 30 minutes and they were only supposed to be in nine minutes,” he chuckled. “They didn’t burn, but they were a little crisp.” “They were like Biscottis,” joked Courtney. “They would have been good with coffee.” Brad still thinks about how the adventure of owning his own business has been like a whirlwind.
“I was sitting at home minding my own business when I get the call from my sister,” he told, flashing a wide smile. “Now I’m thinking that I’m 43 years old, we’re having a baby, and I’m buying a restaurant. Am I nuts?” But the Norcutts are looking forward to their new adventure. “I’m not really nervous,” Brad remarked.
“I’m actually excited about it.” As for Rhymer, he plans to assist the Norcutts for “a few months” with anything they need help with, including the catering business. “It was time for a change,” he said of his decision to sell his business.
“I’ve spent a lot of hours here. Now I want to spend a lot of hours with my grandchildren (Evan and Elise, the children of Rusty’s daughter Ashley Hansen and her husband Jeremy).” Even though the day he set to close the business (Dec. 30) was fast approaching, Rhymer remained confident that the cafe would sell.
“I just had a feeling someone would come forward, either right before or right after I closed,” he admitted. “It’s a good money-maker so I didn’t think it would just close for good.” And does Rhymer, who started Rusty’s Corner Café on Aug. 28 1998, have mixed emotions about leaving after so many years? “I’m a big Eagles fans,” he said.
“And to give you an analogy, their song (Hotel California) referred to ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’. That’s the way it is with me here.” On Friday night, Rusty’s was nearly filled to capacity with customers. Many were there for the barbecued ribs special, while others patronized the café to wish Rusty well and meet the new owners.
“It’s been insanely busy,” Rhymer noted. “I think some customers are coming in one last time before I leave. I posted on my Facebook that I wanted people to come in and share stories about memories they had here.”
Rhymer has been asked by many reporters and customers how he wants his time at the cafe to be remembered. “I don’t want my legacy to be about the good food here because then I have failed,” he said.
“What I want people to remember most are the special times they spent with their loved ones at the cafe.” “If they have memories here of a date night with their spouse, a birthday party with their grandma or grandpa, an anniversary supper, or just a nice dinner with family and friends, then I have done what I set out to do.”
And now that the torch to the café will soon be passed, Rusty’s way of thinking will likely be passed on, too.