GUTHRIE — Debbie Prather, co-owner of The Stables Cafe in Guthrie, typically defers media inquiries to her business partner and husband, Marc Prather. It's he who has the bachelor's degree in hotel and restaurant management from Oklahoma State University.
But she easily contributes 50 percent or more to the restaurant that turned 25 years old on Dec. 10. Ever since she worked as a waitress in high school, she's dreamed of owning her own place. And after her husband recovered from a brain tumor a decade ago, Debbie Prather pretty much holds the reins to Stables, which employs 40 and had $1.5 million in revenue last year.
From her 9,000-square-foot cafe at 223 N Division in Guthrie, which seats 275 and is open seven days a week, Prather, 54, sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about her personal and professional life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I grew up in Enid, the youngest of my parents' five children. My mother was a homemaker and my father worked several jobs at Vance Air Force Base, from fueling planes to carpentry. Previously, he'd worked a dozen or more years in the military, but separated from the service when I, shortly after I was born, became really ill with some sort of scarlet or rheumatic fever in the Philippines. Until I was 8, I suffered periodic, monthlong fevers.
Q: What were the highlights of your childhood?
A: I performed in plays and sang in the high school and church choirs. I also roller-skated and competed in figure, dance, speed and freestyle skating. The last time I was on skates was six years ago at a rink in Guthrie. I still had it; they wanted to order me some special skates.
Q: And college?
A: I lived life through my older sister and brothers, whose heydays were in the '60s. My brothers staged rock bands on our front porch for all the neighbors. Largely because of their influence, I felt hippies didn't need to go to college.
From 16 on, I worked as a waitress and night manager for three different restaurants, before going to work for an oil company in accounts payable.
Q: How'd you meet your husband?
A: At lunch, at the salad bar, at a restaurant he was managing in Enid. We'd both had previous marriages and when we married 18 months later, I became an instant mother to his then 4-year-old daughter, who we ended up raising. I'd suffered infertility in my first marriage and was ecstatic to mother a child. We're still really close.
Q: How'd you get into the restaurant business?
A: Jim Anderson, Marc's previous boss in Enid, introduced us to the late Texas banker Glen Lemon, who recruited us to run a Next Door restaurant across from his bank in Booker, Texas, a town of 1,000 in the Texas Panhandle, just below the Oklahoma Panhandle. We were only there a year and a half before Lemon died in a plane crash and the bank closed and foreclosed on its outstanding loans.
We kept the lights on for a year before leasing here in 1987; we bought 10 years later.
We'd scouted sites in Elk City, Clinton, Weatherford and El Reno before finding this place. For the first five years, Marc, I and one other person did most of the cooking. Customer favorites still include ribs, steaks, burgers, chicken-fried steaks and our salad bar.
Q: How'd you come to name your place The Stables?
A: It was originally a livery stable built in 1889, and we wanted to embrace the historic theme of Guthrie. Today, we display numerous original antiques from old signs and working Coca-Cola machines to shoeshine chairs and an Acton's neon sign from the old Acton's Furniture & Pianos store in Guthrie, established in 1889.
Q: So after your years of infertility, you had another child?
A: Yes. We went with friends to Las Vegas and I bought a magnetic bracelet there March 12, and Riley was born the following Dec. 12, after 12 years of marriage. Before we left Vegas, I spent $50 at a gift shop that qualified me for a free gift — a blue teddy bear.
Q: Then your husband had a major scare?
A: That's right. When Riley was about 4, Marc had ringing in one ear, which eventually led to a diagnosis of a fist-sized tumor in the membrane protecting his brain. Doctors here scheduled him for surgery, but told him to get his affairs in order. Then, less than a week before his scheduled surgery, I — on the Internet — found a doctor at Cedar Sinai in L.A. who successfully was doing endoscopic brain surgery.
On a telephone consult, the doctor told him he'd treat him as a brother and he'd live to fish with his grandson. That's all it took. He underwent two surgeries and then nine months later, when the tumor grew back (the residual on the brain stem couldn't be removed), underwent gamma-knife radio surgery.
Q: What's next for The Stables?
A: For one, we're planning a gift and souvenir shop in the back of our restaurant. It's all about entertaining. We don't consider our restaurant just a restaurant, but a dining experience. And that includes the decor, customized music and, soon, a gift shop.