When Edith Wilkins, a longtime customer of Trade Winds Café, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she relied even more so on the little deli to be a quiet place of comfort after receiving treatments at Centra’s Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer Center across the street.
She walked through the doors at 2201 Langhorne Road three days this past week to have lunch, going once after each checkup she had.
When she walked in, she was immediately greeted by the warm voice of 68-year-old Barbara Tolbert, the owner of the shop for almost a decade.
Customers say Tolbert knows the majority of folks’ name and even their orders at the sandwich shop. She asks about their day and remembers where they work and even the names of their family members.
“It’s a comfortable place to be when you’re alone,” Wilkins said. “When she’s not busy, she chats with you and makes you feel welcome. She’s a very generous person.”
The cafe is tucked into a shopping center just across Langhorne from Centra’s complex of medical buildings that include the cancer center and Lynchburg General Hospital. The small deli has between 12 and 15 tables with a variety of customers dining in and others quickly rushing in during a lunch break for a pick-up order.
Trade Winds has become a regular stopping point not only for patients receiving treatment, but for physicians and even one men’s Bible study group who have been meeting at the deli for a few years.
Tulane Patterson, CEO of Generation Solutions, meets with anywhere between 12 and 14 men at 7 a.m. every Tuesday at the café, which technically doesn’t open until 9 a.m.
Tolbert wakes up early and gets to the restaurant at 6 a.m. to begin scrambling eggs and brewing coffee for the men each week.
Patterson said Tolbert doesn’t have a griddle in the café so she often makes the sausage and bacon at home and brings it in especially for the men.
“Barbara is an amazing lady,” he said. “She does more things than people ever know, under the radar.”
Patterson, who is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Lynchburg, said Tolbert helped to call various vendors to get donations for the organization’s BBQ and ShrimpFest held this August.
“We love her,” he said. “That’s just the place you go in and give her a hug. The world isn’t like that anymore.”
Jossie Campbell, an employee for Boston Scientific in Roanoke, a medical device company, spends a lot of time in Lynchburg since she started her job in March. She said since then, she has come to the café about seven times already and always gets the same item on the menu: the buffalo chicken wrap. Tolbert always remembers.
“It’s so welcoming and it makes me want to continue to come back and to refer this place to other people so they can have the same hospitality as well as a good lunch,” she said.
When someone walks in the door, Tolbert can sense if they’ve been having a bad day. So she goes up to them, puts her arm around their shoulders and asks how they’re doing or if they need anything special.
“They come in here because they know no matter what they will always be welcome,” she said. “They know I’ll take the time to speak to them. I don’t care how busy I am, I’m never too busy to go back and check on them and see if they need anything.”
Wilkins, who gets treatments every three weeks for her breast cancer, said afterwards, she wants to go to a small, comforting place where she can get a bite to eat.
“Barbara is very empathetic,” she said. “She will sometimes sit with me and when you’re by yourself a lot, you enjoy a little company.”
Anytime a customer finishes their treatments, Tolbert has made it a tradition to buy their lunch. Tolbert’s brother and sister both had cancer.
“I tell them all the time, ‘If y’all get sick and need anything feel free to call me, I would be glad to take you to the store if you need or if you need something to eat, I’ll bring you something to eat.’”
Her mantra is if she’s kind and treats people right, it will come back to her one day when she needs some help.
In between chatting and serving her beloved customers one day last week, she said there are a lot of people who come into the café who don’t have a family and she wants them to feel at home.
“And when they come in, I want them to feel like I’m their family,” she said. “Because that’s all they want, is for someone to be nice to them. And when I get old, I hope somebody would look after me the way I look after my customers.”
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.