At age 15 Joe Barger began working at a restaurant in downtown Northport. Today, at 65, he is the owner of the same restaurant and runs it with the help of his family.
The restaurant, City Café, sits in the corner of historic downtown Northport, on Main Avenue, and remains in the same building it started in 100 years ago. Customers are welcomed by the old-timey booths inside, surrounded by walls covered in different photographs and posters accumulated over time.
Over the years, City Café has become a staple for affordable local breakfast and lunch, and during peak hours one may find the line going out the door.
Jodie Rosenberg, one of Barger’s daughters, has been working there full time for years, and remembers helping out around the restaurant since she was a child.
She credits part of the success of her father’s business to his need for consistency.
“My dad likes everything to be exactly the same every day,” she said. “He won’t let us add things to the menu unless we can prove that we can make it consistently every time.”
Frequent customers of the restaurant rely on expecting the same thing everyday.
“People get really mad if we make big changes, so we usually only change one thing on the menu every year,” Rosenberg said. “We keep everything the same, and we just try to make sure it’s always good quality.”
To ensure the quality of the food they serve, City Café makes every item from scratch, and always makes it fresh.
Rosenberg and her sister can be found at the restaurant at 2 a.m. starting to prep for the day’s menu, leading up to 4 a.m. when customers start arriving for breakfast.
“It takes a couple of hours to get everything running and we do as much stuff as we can ourselves, so we’re here nonstop,” she said. “I don’t sleep much.”
Meghan Johnson, a student at the University of Alabama, is one of the restaurant’s 4 a.m. customers.
“If I’m ever pulling an all-nighter then you can bet I’ll be there in the morning,” she said. “It’s always so welcoming, even when it’s so early in the morning, plus the coffee is good and the eggs are always hot.”
The restaurant doesn’t buy any of its vegetables and meat pre-packaged, which makes for more work but also saves on money.
This helps the restaurant maintain its low prices, which inch up every year.
“We go up every Christmas and this year my dad was actually stressed because we went up a quarter on some stuff,” Rosenberg said. “We usually just go up a dime.”
For Kilian Afzalirad, a student at the University, the restaurant’s combination of quality and low prices are the reason he prefers going there for breakfast.
“I love that if I only have five bucks in my pocket I can still get a good sit down meal,” he said. “Sometimes that’s all I’ll have and I’d rather spend it here than someplace like McDonald’s.”
Through the past few years the restaurant has faced competition from other businesses that have opened up, and sometimes has struggles keeping up.
“It gets harder every year, with food prices going up, it gets harder every year to get by,” Rosenberg said. “We do more and more every year, it’s constant.”
According to Rosenberg though the customers have fluctuated over the years, “we don’t get as many students as we used to,” City Café has acquired a solid base of returning customers.
“We have people that have been here every morning for years,” Rosenberg said. “If you don’t see them for a while you start to worry if they’re OK because they just become a part of your life.”
Along with some of the customers, most of the staff that works at the restaurant today has been has been around for more than 20 years.
“It’s just a big family,” Rosenberg said. “Everyone here has been together for so long that we’re a family.”
During football season you can find former students coming back to look for the same waitresses who served them years ago during their time at the University.
“We have people come in and they’re bringing their kids to college now, and I can remember seeing these kids when I was pregnant and now they have their own kids,” Rosenberg said. “It’s just really neat how time flies.”

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