Ingrid Koebel of Magdalena has found her dream, running the longest standing restaurant in town and enjoying life in the Southwest. We chatted with Ingrid over breakfast one Saturday morning at the Magdalena Cafe.
How long have you lived in Magdalena?
I moved to Magdalena in March 2006.
Where were you before?
I moved from California but I grew up in Gross Pointe, Michigan. In San Diego, I was a chef out there for 30 years. I lived practically on the beach for several years.
What was your impression on first leaving the ocean for the mountains?
I thought I’d miss the ocean. Here, all you see is “land.” But I’ll tell you what, that’s as calming to me as the ocean … looking across all that empty land. Just like looking out across the ocean.
When I realized that I was like, OK I can live here. I thought I’d miss the ocean, but I really don’t.
It sounds like you have an appreciation for the old west ways.
Yeah, especially here. This building (the cafe) was built something like a hundred, hundred-twenty years ago. The town has so much rich history. I want to bring that back. I mean, we have the stockyards. We have the historic homes. We have the jailhouse that the Sundance Kid spent the night in.
I haven’t heard that one.
The Sundance Kid came to town and he had been shot in the butt. Had a bullet in his rear. The doctor told the sheriff that the best place to put him is in the jailhouse. “I’ll take it out there,” he said. So he wasn’t actually in the jail, cuffed. Just to take a bullet out of his rear. But it’s our claim to fame. I think the biggest strength of the village is its history. I love the cowboy legacy here and the history of the cattle drives.
As a lover of western ways, do you own a horse?
Yes, I do. I just got a new one, Molly, a Clydesdale. She’s huge. Her hooves are this big (holding her hands apart like a dinner plate). Born and bred at Budweiser. She’s 11. They trained her to pull a wagon, to be a parade horse. But the thing is, they want their Clydesdales to be 18 hands. She’s 16.1, so they rejected her, but she was totally trained.
You don’t have a beer wagon for her to pull, do you?
No, but ever since moving here, I’ve wanted to get a wagon - a historic wagon - to take people around town. Like a date night. I’d pick you up at your house, come here for dinner and give you a ride around before I take you home. I’ve got two wagons lined up and am already booked for two weddings. This is the dream I’ve had since 2006, and now it’ll be a reality.
How long have you been riding?
I’m not one of those people who likes to go to a gym to work out. Basically, I’m a horse girl. I’m not a cowgirl or anything like that. I just ride bareback, but you know. It started when I was six. My best friend had shetland ponies at their little farm outside of town. We used to go out there and hop on the ponies ... get thrown off.
And that led to bigger horses?
There was a hunt club near where I lived where there were nice hunters and jumpers; $20,000-80,000 horses. No one could ever find me because I was always hanging out there. Mucking the stalls, getting the horses ready for people to come ride. So, on Monday or Tuesday, I could ride the club horse for free. Even though I worked in restaurants in California, I’d put an ad up in the local tack shop that said: “I will ride your horse.” I would get pregnant women calling me up and saying, “my husband won’t let me ride … would you ride my horse?” I’d go, oh yeah. I got to do my two loves. My work in restaurants and ride horses.
Speaking of restaurants, when did you find you had a knack for cooking?
I started making salads at 16 in Michigan. In 1984 I moved to California and went to work for a place called The Chart House. I started prepping in the kitchen, and they made me the kitchen manager. From there I moved up to Ventura and became a sou chef at a resort on the harbor. It was a banquet place, like hosting conventions. We’d do 3,000 people at a time.
When did you take over the Magdalena Cafe?
I knew all along I wanted this restaurant. I had been talking with Alanna and George (Van Winkle) for a long time, starting back in 2018. I wanted to keep the same menu they’ve served for the last 35 years. The only thing I changed was to add fresh fruit to breakfast.
What is your favorite item off the menu here?
Evelyn’s smothered hamburger steak with tri-colored bell peppers. And onions. And the burger. The Magdalena Burger is eight ounces. They won’t fit on a four-inch bun, so we get special buns. It’s hard to pick out a favorite. Our burgers are probably the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had burgers all over the country. It’s very popular.
What are the hours?
We’re open six days a week and two nights. We’re open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 7 p.m.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
The thing that relaxes me most is grooming my horse. It’s a soul thing, it’s calming. It’s healing. I was rear-ended by a drunk driver in 1999. I was thinking if I can just get on a horse. When I did it was like it settled my whole back down. Otherwise, at home, I like to read. Mostly histories and biographies. I’m a big WWII reader. The first book I ever read was Rommel, The Desert Fox. After that I was hooked.
Any long term plans?
I want to start mentoring young people who want to live and work here and have their own business. To learn. This is the eighth business I’ve owned. The first restaurant. I’ve had painting companies … well, all sorts of businesses. I’ve done everything from making sandwiches to working on cars to laying sod on the freeway in Florida. I think I’ve done every manual labor job you can think of. I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
If there was anything you could change what would that be?
I wish we had better fishing here. I grew up on Lake St. Clair in Michigan and I’ve always fished for trout. I’m best with a spinner lure for trout. I have my grandfather’s bamboo and Bakelite rod from Orvis that was made in 1958. He owned the Koebel Diamond Tool Company and had a fishing cabin up in New Brunswick. He was given that rod by a client. I still have to find a good reel for it. I think this spring I’m on my first trip up to Mackinaw Island in Michigan. To go on a fishing tour. Trouble is, I can’t bring what I catch back here and serve it. If there’s a way to do it legally I’ll figure it out.