In the community

Mal’s owner reviving Vale’s Starlite as community center, with classics on menu

VALE – The sounds of a drill mixed with the noise from a power washer surrounded Malinda Castleberry last week as she sat at a bench inside the Starlite Café.

Castleberry, though, wasn’t focused on the reverberating sounds around her. 

She was determined to find waffle makers.

“The Starlite has to have waffles,” said Castleberry.

Castleberry recently leased the café at 152 Clark St. N. after longtime owner Sharon Bannon sold the building to Arizona resident Bob Bement Jr., and his wife Claudia earlier this summer. Bannon owned the Starlite for about 16 years. Bannon said the Starlite building was constructed sometime in the mid-1960s and served as a hamburger joint for a few years before it became the Starlite. 

Castleberry’s desire to find waffle makers – four of them– is right in line with her philosophy regarding the café.

“I want to bring it back to what it was, a community center and another place in town to eat,” said Castleberry.

Castleberry isn’t a rookie when it comes to managing restaurants. She bought the old Dairy Queen building at 218 A St. W. in Vale five years ago and renamed it Mal’s Diner. She deftly negotiated and overcame the hurdles all small businesses encounter and survived the Covid pandemic.

She said she started to chat with Bement in May about taking over the lease of the café. 

“So, in a way it is two Vale families working to bring the Starlite back, that’s how I see the partnership,” said Castleberry.

Bement’s father – now retired – was a long-time Vale High School teacher and coach. 

The building will look the same from the outside but there will be a host of changes inside and to the menu when the café reopens, said Castleberry.

Now, work crews are busy rearranging portions of the interior and upgrading the bathrooms. Plans now are for the doors to open in early August. 

“But that could change because supply issues have already forced us to push it (the opening) back,” said Castleberry.

Castleberry said she doesn’t want to “step on my own toes” so the fare offered at the Starlite will differ from her menu at Mal’s Diner. 

“The diner is more fast cooking establishment where this is more home cooked, more of a family dining experience,” said Castleberry. 

One big change will be the menu, she said.

 “We will bring back some classics and add more healthy options,” said Castleberry.

Castleberry said a Rueben sandwich along with homemade finger steaks are just two examples of the new menu. 

She also said the café’s hours are going to expand. The new hours will be 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, she said. The ultimate goal, said Castleberry, is to be open 24 hours.

The staff is also going to grow, said Castleberry. 

Now the café employs about nine people but Castleberry plans to enlarge the restaurant roster to include up to 20 workers.

Castleberry said she is excited about her new challenge.

“I get to try a different kind of atmosphere,” she said.

She also admitted she was a little nervous as well.

“There are a lot of steps involved to making it go smooth,” she said.

Those steps include ensuring her new staff is trained and “we have all the food supplies we need.”

Which brings us back to the waffle makers. 

For Castleberry, the waffles represent an iconic symbol of the Starlite, a hometown place where a good waffle delivers smiles of satisfaction. 

So last week, as the sound of drills echoed across the interior, Castleberry manned the phone, tracking down four waffle makers inside the broken supply chain system.

“The cheap ones are like $600,” said Castleberry.

Then she looked up from her phone, gave a slight smile.

“We will find a way to make it happen,” she said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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