Rachel Sauter’s first restaurant job was washing dishes at Mount Vernon Cafe at the age of 16.
Back then, she never imagined that she would someday own her own restaurant in the same location.
“I thought I’d be living in Brooklyn, N.Y., or someplace like that,” said the Mount Vernon native and owner of the new Mount Vernon eatery, Palisades Cafe.
Shortly after Sauter started working at the restaurant, Matt Steigerwald purchased Mount Vernon Cafe and renamed it Lincoln Cafe. Over the next 12-plus years, the restaurant gained national acclaim among food enthusiasts.
Sauter left Mount Vernon to study music at Grinnell College, working her way through college as a cook. After graduation, she continued working in the restaurant industry.
For a period of about two years, Sauter ran what is now the Lincoln Wine Bar in Mount Vernon before selling it to Steigerwald in 2007. She went on to work at The Cottage Bakery and Cafe in Iowa City and later the Augusta Restaurant in Oxford.
“I’ve always gravitated towards food jobs,” Sauter said. “I’ve learned something important at every place I’ve worked and had the pleasure of working for some really great people. I’ve been groomed in the tradition of great food.”
When Steigerwald decided to close Lincoln Cafe in late 2013 to pursue other interests, he contacted Sauter to see if she would be interested in purchasing the business. Sauter said it was a quick decision.
“About two weeks’ worth of thought went into it,” she said. “I knew a lot of people would be jumping at the opportunity.”
Other than painting one wall orange, Sauter did not make many changes to the interior of the restaurant.
“I didn’t feel a particular need to distinguish myself,” she explained. “I’ve known this space for a long time.”
Also unchanged is the chalkboard announcing specials made from fresh, local ingredients. Daily lunch and dinner specials join a regular menu of appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and desserts.
One thing Sauter did change was the restaurant’s name.
“I want to live up to Matt’s standard, but I don’t want people to come here and think it’s the same place,” she said.
Sauter chose the new name to pay homage to nearby Palisades-Kepler State Park, where she spent a lot of time growing up.
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At a Glance
•Owner: Rachel Sauter
•Company: Palisades Cafe
•Address: 117 First St. NW, Mount Vernon
•Phone: (319) 895-4041