This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of The Missouri Times Magazine.
At Chez Monet, everyone is family to owner Joan Fairfax. In fact, she even opened the Capitol basement location to lure her son and daughter-in-law from St. Louis to Jefferson City.
“We appreciate our customers. They could go anywhere. Even though this is the most convenient, it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to get food somewhere else,” Fairfax said as she prepared for the lunch rush in the kitchen. “They could call anywhere, they could go anywhere downtown, and they choose to come here.”
Fairfax’s dedication to customers is paramount. On any given day, as many as 18 people could be working at Chez Monet — more than the standard in the restaurant business, she said — just to ensure the lines are as short as possible and the café doesn’t run out of food.
One of those workers is Fairfax’s friend, Suzanne Marshall. She works at the restaurant three or four days a week part-time, cooking bacon or chopping pineapple, even though she owns a stable caring for nearly a dozen horses.
“She’s a wonderful person,” Marshall said, noting Fairfax’s penchant for mentoring others. “We have a great staff here, and it’s a great place to work. We have a lot of fun together, and that’s what makes the difference.”
Fairfax’s focus on customers is even evident with the specials the café serves up daily. While taco salad is a weekly staple every Thursday — and fan favorite, Fairfax said — there are days she’ll enlist the help of those in line to create a unique menu item for the week.
“That’s big for us. They’re our friends, and we can have fun,” she said.
Originally from Tipton, Fairfax first opened Chez Monet on High St. in 1991 after working at Gerbes Super Market for some time as the bakery manager in Columbia and Jefferson City. She was already putting in long hours and decided to go into business for herself.
Eventually, Fairfax closed the High St. location and operated solely out of her home on Mulberry St. where she has a commercial kitchen. She specializes in cakes — for all occasions — and caters.
But when the opportunity arose, a vacant café waiting in the Capitol basement, Fairfax couldn’t pass up a chance to get her son, Jason, to relocate nearer to her. Thus, Chez Monet opened in the Capitol basement in February 2018 — in the midst of the legislative session.
During session, it’s nonstop at Chez Monet, especially between the hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The restaurant premakes about 35 salads and 40 sandwiches daily for a “grab and go” section. After all, as Fairfax pointed out, everything is designed to be as fast as possible.
In doing this interview, Fairfax often pointed to the work and success of others around her. It’s clear she’s built a well-oiled machine, as employees are scattered throughout the day to run to the store, man the cash register, and build taco salads for hungry legislators. But her dedication and kindness was also evident. And as she talked about her life and work, she would often pause to check on a cake or serve those who came through, even giving away a free meal to one customer.
Fairfax still runs the cake and catering business out of her home. And even when Chez Monet is closed (open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays), you can find Fairfax in the industrial kitchen whipping up some delicacy.
“She’s pretty amazing really,” Jason Fairfax said of his mom. “She gets up at 4 a.m. and works until whenever. She’s just the hardest worker I know. I’m very proud.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn was the editor in chief of The Missouri Times from 2020-2022. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.