Cafe's patrons park their planes at the door - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Cafe's patrons park their planes at the door

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Posted: Saturday, January 10, 2009 4:07 pm | Updated: 1:16 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Liliane George, who has owned the Hangar Cafe at the Chandler Municipal Airport for more than a decade, has seen several of her regular customers - friends - take flight and never return.

She remembers Joe Henderson, who crashed in a crop duster several years ago.

"I remember talking to him. I was probably the last person to talk to him before he took off," George said. "I gave him his iced tea, and then about 25 minutes later, I heard we lost him."

And there was Steve Bates, who crashed while flying a World War II-era antique to an air show, she said. Another flier died when an experimental plane he had built crashed. And another friend crashed while flying in Alaska.

"You become friends with these pilots, these people you see every week. They ask about your family and your kids," George said. "We've lost quite a few friends and pilots that used to be here every day. They're here all the time and you see their faces and all of the sudden they're not here anymore."

The cafe sits just off the airfield, tucked away behind an active aircraft hangar at the end of Ryan Road, on the airport's northern edge. Customers must pass through a tall, chain-link fence that is marked both "Authorized access only" and "Cafe access." Once through, patrons are among the planes, which are parked right up to the cafe's front door.

George wasn't the cafe's first owner, but she did double its size and turn it from a "fast food" place into a comfortable restaurant with an outdoor patio. The cafe serves traditional diner fare like pancakes or hamburgers, but the menu also has some finer touches, such as tempura battered fried green beans and a blue cheese walnut salad.

"The restaurant's been on the field for probably 15 or 20 years," George said. "It used to be a very small place just for the airport."

Thanks to George's efforts, that's no longer the case. Customers line up for tables on the weekends.

The cafe attracts its business by word-of-mouth, and George said she has never advertised.

"Business is pretty good considering the economy and how people are cutting back on going out," she said. "People are tired of going to chain food places and they want the small places to succeed."

The cafe has a devoted following. On Thursday afternoon, regular visitor Russ Maxson was sitting down to lunch with several friends who often meet at the cafe. Maxson, a retired America West pilot who now has small planes of his own, said there's something of a community of people who spend time at the cafe.

"Sometimes I'll come out here and see everybody for a couple of hours," he said. "When Liliane took it over from the last people, it really improved. It really became a lot nicer and friendlier."

Ashley Flanzer, a 24-year-old Performance Aviation airplane mechanic who also has her pilot's license, said it's a good place to take friends.

"If people are looking for a good breakfast, I like to bring them out here," she said.

One customer gave George a wooden sculpture of Snoopy, the dog from the comic strip "Peanuts," flying the Red Baron's plane. Snoopy, of course, has been in cartoons in aerial dogfights with the enemy Red Baron.

The man had built the sculpture while serving in Vietnam, George said. It now hangs from the cafe's ceiling.

"He said, 'The only thing it will cost you is a cup of coffee and never to sell it,'" she said.

Another customer presented her with charts from his first trip piloting a plane overseas. The charts now hang framed on the wall.

The Hangar Cafe has its share of fans in far-flung places. Among the memorabilia on the walls is a signed photo from a Slovakian airplane aerobatics team. And George said she sometimes caters for corporate jets visiting Chandler.

Over the years, city development has spread south to meet the airport, she said. Many of the area's roads, businesses and homes didn't used to be there.

"It grew a lot in the last 10 years," she said. "It used to be nothing around the airport."

George is not a pilot herself, but is married to one, and often goes on flights in a small plane.

She said when she came to Chandler about 15 years ago from Southern California, she had the dream of owning her own business.

"When I looked at it, it was very charming," she said of the cafe. "I remember when I used to be a kid, our parents used to take us to the airport to watch the planes. I thought that would be nice for families."

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