Sitting on a cliff above Blaine Harbor on Peace Portal Drive is a historic red caboose, seldom seen any longer in our day and age. The train car overlooks the water and marina, surrounded by bright blue skies, fresh saltwater breezes, and the sounds of squawking seagulls filling the air.
Inside, you’ll find a modern café with a rotating selection of fresh, handmade pastries, rich coffee, and a menu of breakfast foods, sandwiches, and wraps perfect for picnics on the beach or eating on the patio.
“It’s a coffee shop/deli/bakery,” says Vicka Haywood, owner of the Railway Café. She says many customers come to enjoy the view for a couple hours and make use of the free WiFi. “On a clear day, you can see for miles.”
The caboose has an interesting story of how it came to be in this prominent space in Blaine. In 1986 the owner of Tony’s Just a Bite, Tony, wanted to surprise the town with an unexpected installation. For it to be a surprise, it had to be installed in just one day.
He and his crew dug a hole, laid train tracks, and used a crane to set the caboose down onto the tracks. “It’s still sitting on its original wheels,” says Haywood. “Every time a heavy train goes by or a truck, it feels like we’re on a train ride.” Coffee cups rattle and the caboose sways, just like a real dining car.
The carriage has become a permanent fixture in Blaine, adding interest and creativity to the landscape. It has housed a variety of renters since its inception, including a glassblower’s studio and a fortune teller.
Haywood describes the first time she saw the railway car. “I thought it was such an awesome idea. I called my husband to go see it and said, ‘I would love to have something like that.’” One month later, Haywood’s husband found the caboose for rent on Craigslist. She immediately called the lister, and the rest is history.
Haywood was born in Russia and raised in Israel. She came to the United States in the early ’90s to visit her brother in Georgia; during her visit she met a Navy man. “I didn’t want to stay here. I had a ticket [to go] back home, but it was meant to be,” she says. Twenty-some years and four daughters later, she and her husband are happy and very much in love.
“My husband retired from the Navy two years ago. I followed him throughout his military career, and now he’s following me throughout anything I want to do,” she says.
Haywood planned on the Railway Café becoming a coffee shop, with a few sandwiches. She originally had two to three pastries daily, but it evolved into almost a full-blown bakery because of her knack for baking. “My limit is 14 [types of pastries daily],” she says. Haywood deftly churns out this large number of baked goods despite the limitations of a small kitchen and only having one convection oven.
She works with the natural subtleties of the ingredients and balances the flavors while using fresh, seasonal berries and fruits.
“My pastries are not sweet, per se,” she says. Supermarkets and general mass marketers tend to add an excessive amount of sugar, thinking that’s something everyone enjoys. “Pastries are something you’re supposed to enjoy eating and is pleasant on your palette. Not overly sweet, not too tart,” says Haywood. “I find the right balance and flavors, and they complement the coffee we serve.”
She began experimenting with gluten-free items by popular demand and has had success creating new recipes. Every Friday, Haywood bakes a fresh, gluten-free pastry and posts it on Facebook. Throughout the week, she can make any sandwich gluten free, but warns against people with Celiac disease eating at the caboose because of the high amounts of gluten in the kitchen.
Hayward admits she was nervous about opening a business in a small town as an outsider, but has found that the people of Blaine have been nothing but wonderful. “I love Blaine and the people. They’re warm and friendly,” she says. “They made us feel wanted and welcomed us with open arms.”
On a recent trip to Canada, the customs agent in line told Haywood she’d heard so many good things about the Railway Café. After only six months in business, she already has Canadian customers coming in because of recommendations by friends in Vancouver.
“We’re known internationally now,” says Haywood. “I just wanted a little place of my own, and I found it.”