San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Atenas Expat Hangout Started With a Cherry Pie

What makes this little pastry shop and restaurant in the western Central Valley town of Atenas so popular that patrons travel long distances to eat here? It’s not an elegant or extravagant restaurant, but its appeal is special.

First of all, it’s comfortable, with eight tables in a natural, airy dining room. It’s sociable. You feel like you’re sitting in a friend’s kitchen. You can choose a table by yourself if reading or dreaming is your thing over breakfast or lunch, or you can join the “breakfast club” at the long table for discussions in English on any subject that pops up.

It’s cute. Each wooden latticed octagonal table is simply adorned with a potted cactus plant.

Your hosts, Kay and Tom Costello, from the U.S. state of South Dakota, will see that you’re well taken care of and fed good home cooking.

There’s a free book exchange, a boon for fast or avid readers. Bring some in. Take some out.

Bulletin boards and posted notices of what’s for sale or rent or services offered in English help the sometimes bewildered expats who gather here.

Kids and pets are welcome. One regular customer shares breakfast with her dog.

Notices of spay-neuter clinics, pet adoptions and events to help the Hogar de Vida orphanage are on the bulletin boards.

You can buy your Tico Times here, to take away or to read with coffee or lunch.

You can have just one cup of coffee or a filling breakfast and never feel rushed.

It all started with a cherry pie, Kay says. She had to make one for a dinner, a daunting task since she had no recipe and no ingredients.

“I raised my arms and called on God to help, and a cookbook fell off a shelf in front of me,” she says.

The pie brought raves, and in 2004 started a whole new career for the Costellos.

While Kay’s Gringo Postres, with its whimsical name, was a staple on Atenas’ main street, the business soon outgrew its boundaries. Shortly after it opened as a pastry shop, customers suggested a table and coffee, Tom says. “Then someone else asked for a long table for a ‘breakfast club.’ Then someone suggested breakfast and we began with basics, which have now expanded to 30 items.”

Next, Tom continues, someone brought in a box of books, and they put up a bookshelf. Retired librarian Linda Ledbetter came in with lumber and tools and built bookcases, which now take up one side of the dining room. Ledbetter also organized the library, which just seems to grow.

Next came lunches with “real Gringo food,” and earlier this year the Costellos were forced to find larger quarters.

The new venue is also attracting Ticos, who were a bit uncertain about a “Gringo” place but, being right next to the Social Security System (Caja) clinic, it’s perfect for unwinding after a long wait or treatment.

An English-language Alcoholics Anonymous meets here on Wednesday evenings in privacy and with plenty of coffee available.

Prices are as comfortable as the surroundings. Pastries run about ¢500 to ¢600 ($0.90 to $1.10), coffee with refills, ¢500.

A full plate of breakfast costs about ¢2,400 ($4.40), and dinners are approximately ¢6,000 ($11). If there’s any problem here, it’s in deciding what to eat among the 30 breakfast choices and 25 delicious desserts.

And there’s more to come. Wireless Internet connection is in the works for those who want to surf over coffee and dessert. Sunday dinners with full-plate specials are held twice a month. And anything customers suggest will be taken into consideration.

Atenas is on the highway between San José and the central Pacific beaches, so it’s a convenient stopping-off place for travelers.

It’s easy to reach by bus and car. The town is still small enough to make finding your way around easy. To get to Kay’s Gringo Postres from the central square, head west, past the market and bus station one block, turn left, go about 300 meters toward the Red Cross and follow the curve to the right. Go past the clinic and chain-link bridge and you’re there. Parking is no problem.

Hours are Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday dinners are by reservation. For information, call 2446-0664.


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