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SLO's Art Cafe wins over the queen of talk
By Nathan Welton
The Tribune
July 26, 2004


Oprah Winfrey found a lot more than she bargained for between two slices of white pepper-jack bread in San Luis Obispo a few weeks ago.

After sampling a homemade sandwich from San Luis Obispo's Art Cafe and Bakery, she decided to put in a plug for the business.

She also decided to buy part of it.

"It turns out this was the most expensive sandwich I've ever had," Winfrey said Sunday after a photo shoot at the restaurant slated to run in October in her magazine, O.

The humble chef, cafe owner Margaux Sky, was surprised and elated -- especially considering she had plans to sell her restaurant about an hour before Winfrey's offer came through.

"It was just a sandwich, you know what I mean?" she said.

Not quite.

To Winfrey, it was the mother of all sandwiches; the chicken curry within the homemade bread represented culinary perfection.

It was good enough to cause the uber-celebrity to break her no-bread diet and send Sky a check -- the amount of which wasn't disclosed -- less than 24 hours later.

The two had never met, and Oprah hadn't even seen the cafe.

Winfrey's chance encounter with the meal came a few weeks ago while visiting Tim Bennett.

He's worked with Winfrey for about 20 years and is now president of Harpo Productions, which runs her television show, magazine and Web site.

Winfrey was reportedly hungering for a turkey burger. But Bennett -- a recent transplant to San Luis Obispo -- instead arranged for his sister-in-law, Sky, to bring a few sandwiches to his house.

Bennett "said 'Enjoy it -- because tomorrow she's shutting down her cafe,' " Winfrey said.

And enjoy it she did.

But Sky, who opened the eatery about 2 1/2 years ago, had become tired of her hectic schedule and was ready to move on.

Sky said she had been working 12 to 15 hours a day, baking her homemade breads before dawn and preparing other fixings as late as 6 p.m.

The restaurant wasn't necessarily in financial difficulty, she said, but it wasn't making a large enough profit to employ more than two people. As a result, she had become almost a one-woman show.

"It all hit me at once," Sky said. "I woke up at 3 a.m. one day and said, 'I can't do this any more.' "

She made arrangements to sell, lining up a buyer to sign at 9 a.m. the day after the food was delivered for Winfrey.

But the signature wouldn't come.

"I've never bailed someone out," Winfrey said. "It's all about the sandwich. ... Everyone who is that good should be given a chance."

When Winfrey left San Luis Obispo, she immediately began thinking about investing -- and extended an offer the next morning at 8 a.m.

Bennett "called and said if I wanted to stay in business, the check was in the mail," Sky said.

So she said she would..

"Women try to do too much instead of reaching out and asking for support so they can do what they do better," Winfrey said. "Always do your best, because you never know who's watching."