By Barbara Shoun
Hartsburg—The phone number has never appeared in the phone book and the town is no longer on the map, but well over 300 people find their way down the narrow road every weekend to eat fried chicken and country ham at Claysville Store.
What started as a Kool-Aid stand along the Katy Trail, north of Jefferson City, has grown into a 110-seat restaurant that proclaims the love of God on nearly every wall.
“We never know who’s going to grace our doors,” said Mark Hooibrink (pronounced Hoy-brink) who, with his wife, Laura, and their children operate the Claysville Store restaurant. The Hooibrinks consider the family business as an extended ministry of their church, New Hope Baptist, which is just up the road.
“People come in here from all walks of life,” he said. “You search your soul. If we can share our faith or if God puts someone before us we’d better talk to, we’d better do that. We never know if that person is coming to give us an encouraging word or we need to be encouraging to them.”
Mark serves as a deacon at New Hope, where Carl David Ray is pastor. He and Laura view their family-operated business as a ministry to both their customers and their employees.
“We feel like it’s a ministry to people who have come into the restaurant. We want to make them feel a part of our family,” Laura said. “If they have needs, we want to try to meet those needs.”
“Laura and I have made intimate friendships with lots of folks,” Mark added.
The Hooibrinks moved to the Claysville community in 1978 and bought the store property in 1985. The building had been unused for years and was dilapidated. However, it adjoins the Katy Trail, which gets a lot of biking and walking traffic during the spring and fall months.
A few years later, with their parents’ permission, the three Hooibrink children, Sarah, Fred and Natalie, began selling Kool-Aid out of a little wagon to people using the trail. Customers not only bought their drinks but were generous with their tips. When the kids made $24 in four hours one afternoon, the desire to have a business took root.
Mark and Laura convened a family council, and everyone committed to remodeling the old general store. Mark and Laura determined to save any tax refund money each year and use it to remodel the building. The flood of 1993 set them back, but the store opened in 1998 with the kids selling candy, soda pop and chips.
Later, Mark started doing barbecue on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons and people drove out to the store to eat it. The store could seat 25. Hours were inconsistent.
In 2001, a local restaurant closed when its owner passed away.
“We’d go up Sunday nights and grab something to eat,” said Mark. “When it closed, we realized the void.”
It was time for another family council. Sarah, Fred and Natalie saw it as a way to finance their college educations and earn some spending money.
“All three said, ‘Go for it,’” Mark reported.
The seating capacity was increased to 58.When the store opened in 2002 (it closes in the winter), chicken and ham dinners were consistently on the menu. The rustic décor gave the place a “down home” feel.
Another addition in 2005 brought the seating capacity to 110. A mural in the newer addition depicts a train approaching the Claysville station and honors the memory of Mark’s parents, Fred and Jane, who were involved in the early days of the business. Fred “never met a stranger” and went about greeting guests much as Mark does when he can get away from the kitchen.
Although it is still indefinite, the Hooibrinks are considering another expansion, this one to accommodate Christian singing groups. Their church has its own amphitheater which offers concerts in the spring and fall. It could be that some of those groups may someday be singing at the Claysville Store in conjunction with the church concerts.
At the same time the business was growing, so was the sense of mission to customers and staff. The Hooibrinks have employed many young people over the years in addition to their own son and daughters.
“We try to make them an extension of our family as well,” Laura said. “We’ve gotten very close to most, if not all, of them. When they go off in different chapters of their lives, we miss them a lot.”
Mark added, “As Christians, sometimes we falter, but Laura and I try to be the best examples to those young people. It started with our girls and son, then a few of their friends and others their age.
“We have seen the first group in college and getting married. The next group is just starting college. This group is getting ready to graduate. Sometimes, they’re a better example than I am,” said Mark.
He noted that family is very important to Laura and him and they want to develop that sense of family among their young employees. “We want them to learn to work together, to love each other, to care about each other.
“A lot of people may not understand why we have Scripture verses and don’t open until 12:30 on Sundays; but, if they choose, we want them to be in church.
“God first, chicken second. If we deviate from that, we might not be cooking chicken much longer,” he added.
The couple works hard to maintain that balance. Mark is a 32-year employee with Meyer Electric in Jefferson City and Laura is an administrative assistant for Columbia Public Schools.
“The restaurant could very easily take you away from things you know you need to be doing, if you let it. Laura and I have to keep that in focus with what we do,” said Mark.
As a reminder, the plaque on the wall behind the checkout station quotes Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The Hooibrink children have grown and married, but Fred, his wife, Sarah, and sisters, Sarah Francis and Natalie Loaiza, are all still active in the business, which is an ever-present part of Hooibrink family life.
In fact, it’s such a part of Mark and Laura’s life that you have to call their home phone at (573) 636-8443 to make a reservation.