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Long day for a short-order cook 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.

September 3, 2005

Cascade Locks resident Stephenie Dixon arrives at work every day with a smile on her face — in spite of worries about her husband’s safety.

Oregon National Guard Pvt. Warren Dixon was deployed to Iraq more than seven months ago and his tour of duty could be over in October. Then again, he could be stationed in the Middle East until next spring.

To cope with anxiety, Stephanie keeps busy waiting tables at the Cascade Inn along WaNaPa Street. When not at work, she has her hands full caring for two small children, Angel, 4, and Erik, 1.

“I work to get the worry off my mind. If I was sitting home all of the time I’d go crazy,” she said.

There is no hint of her concerns at 7 a.m. on Thursday as Dixon approaches a booth of four hungry clients. She greets them and asks cheerfully if they’d like coffee while looking over the menu. That suggestion draws ready agreement and Dixon is busy for the next few minutes getting everyone settled in with java and utensils for the morning meal.

“You have to have people skills to be in this business — and able to do more than one thing at a time,” she said, handing off the order to Dennis Dixon, her brother-in-law.

The 22-year-old cook already has five years of experience and dreams about going to culinary school and one day opening his own restaurant. He’s got the short-order drill down to a smooth science: Put on the hash browns first, followed by the meat and, lastly, the eggs and toast. In fact, Dixon’s timing is so good that all of the food groups are finished at the same time and arrive at the table warm and fresh.

“It was pretty hard to learn but I’ve got it down now,” he said with a smile while watching his creations being devoured.

“It really gives me a feeling of satisfaction when people stop by on their way out and say ‘that was a darn good meal.’ That makes me feel good,” said Dixon.

He can juggle about 20 different orders at the same time by being very organized about the preparation. But Dixon derives his greatest enjoyment from slow roasting Prime Rib for the Friday night special. He spends several hours during the afternoon basting a tender cut of meat that is served with either soup or salad and a choice of potato. The $10.95 dinner also includes steamed vegetables, grilled bread and both a tasty au jus marinade and horseradish sauce.

Dixon followed in his father’s career footsteps to become a cook. He admits that it might be tempting not to spend a lot of off-hour time in the kitchen — except that he is the single father of 2-year-old Dawson.

“He doesn’t want peanut butter and jelly, he’s used to me being a cook so he gets pretty good meals,” said Dixon.

He does admit to sometimes getting himself in trouble with a date by critiquing her presentation of food — or trying to take over in the kitchen altogether.

“There’s a lot of things I like to do a certain way and I guess it just tastes better to me like that,” he said.

At a family gathering, Dixon is usually called to man the barbecue grill, the place where he claims to do his best work.

Jake Walshaw learned long ago about Dixon’s culinary skills and makes time to enjoy breakfast after delivering a shipment of Franz bread.

“They have good quality food and healthy portions,” said Walshaw, cutting into a steaming slice of French toast.

Dixon takes great pride in his work and tries to avoid displeasing a customer. However, he occasionally gets a plate sent back and tries to take it with good grace.

“I just button down and do it all over again,” he said. “I don’t ever send anything back myself because I know how that goes. But I will decide not to go back to that restaurant.”

He doesn’t want anyone walking away from the Cascade Inn without feeling full and content. And the high number of returning diners seems to give testimony to his abilities and Stephenie’s quick service.

The clock strikes 8 a.m. and a regular strolls in for his usual cup of coffee and a heaping plate of ham and eggs.

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