’It’s a Christmas miracle.’ Community saves landmark café and its generous owner

MALTBY, Wash. — For more than three decades, the Maltby Café has reliably stood the test of time. It’s a landmark in the lower levels of a 1937-era schoolhouse, where the homemade cinnamon rolls are bigger than your imagination, where customers are treated like regulars, and where the 45 loyal employees are like a second family to Tana Baumler, who has owned the restaurant for 33 years.

That’s why Baumler was in despair when the latest shutdown order was putting her historically busy place out of business.

“For the last two months I’ve just been sick knowing we were close to closing down,” she said, adding that the meager takeout business left her without enough to pay for supplies, in a place where she offers health and retirement benefits to her workers.

“We’re exhausted,” she said. “We’ve worked, and it’s not enough. And I’m an old Montana girl. You work hard, you make it, and that’s the American dream.”

Baumler said she owed $10,000 in healthcare premiums to keep her workers insured for the month, and the rent was due on the same day.

“It was eating me up alive,” she said. “I was just down on my knees asking, ‘Just give me a miracle.’”

Baumler decided to offer her loyal customers an outdoor dining experience called the Miracle on Maltby Street, to raise some funds, and possibly, to say goodbye.

“What I felt was even if we couldn’t make it, I was going to go out fighting,” she said. “I wanted to give the very best experience to all our regulars who have been here forever and create a Christmas memory.”

Her regulars know Baumler has always been a giver. She volunteered to travel and cook food during Hurricane Katrina, and she raises funds to build children’s homes and schools in India.

Suddenly, loyal customers and friends offered to help. The takeout business boomed. One donated a dining tent. Another made a GoFundMe page, which soon exploded with donations from generations of customers.

“I got off the phone and bawled because I knew we can make it,” she said. “There’s a chance we can do this!”

Within a day, Tana had enough to pay her workers’ health care benefits and cover her rent. She was given hope where she was facing despair.

“I’m humbled beyond humble,” she said. “I can’t believe this is happening. I’m so excited because you know what? No one’s going to be out of health insurance for December, January or February maybe. It truly is a miracle and I just can’t even tell you how that feels.”