Tonya Willis and her daughters Courtney McDonald and Kayla Wade are united by their endeavors as women in business.
And their businesses are two of the iconic restaurants in Kilgore.
Willis has owned Circle Cafe for the last 25 years, and her daughters McDonald and Wade have owned Charburger Stockade for the past six years. They inherited it from their dad, who bought it in the 1980s, after he passed away in 2014.
All three have been involved in restaurants for a long time. And it shows – in their attitudes and in their food, which has kept generations of Kilgore diners happy for years and years.
"Our whole lives we watched our mom and our dad both own different restaurants, and we've grown up in that business," McDonald said. "And of course my mom always helped if needed on whatever."
Willis has been in the food business for 35 years, she said.
"The economy has changed since going into business," Willis said "The oilfield was booming back in the day. Many oil fields have moved out of the area or closed. This year, 2020, has been a struggle because of COVID-19. I feel like we are about to overcome that; business is almost back to normal."
Circle Cafe means a lot to Willis.
"I love my little cafe," she said. "I've put my whole life into it. I have a good group that I work with, and I couldn't do it without them. We feel like we're family."
And the customers feel that way, too.
The back room is unofficially referred to as the room for “unusual types,” but coffee-drinkers, from far and wide, accumulate at the Circle regularly. And the community? Well, if you say, “I’ll meet you at the Circle,” everyone knows you mean Circle Café.
As for Charburger, it’s known far and wide as one of the area’s best burgers, not to mention all the other fare. And Willis is proud of her daughters and their work.
"After their dad passed away, they jumped right in and took care of things. It has not been easy for them, but they do a great job," Willis said. "They grew up in restaurants so they are all naturals."
Being able to take over the Charburger from their dad means a lot to McDonald and Wade.
"This restaurant's very special to us because it has been in our family, and then y'know we're just trying to keep the tradition of it alive," Wade said.
All three women in business are working hard.
"To be a woman in business just means that you have to find a good balance to make time for family," Willis said.
For McDonald, it includes wanting her kids to grow up seeing her work hard.
"Even though things do get rough sometimes, that we always continue to push through, and just to set an example for others that you can do anything you set your mind to," she said.
Charburger Stockade is located at 206 N. Kilgore Street in Kilgore, and Circle Café is located at 100 Houston Street in Kilgore – in the traffic circle. Specialties at the Charburger include burgers, fried catfish, steak fingers, Frito pie and more. Circle Café is open early every morning except Sunday for breakfast and lunch with a wide variety of options and plate lunch specials.
And be sure to check out their back room, full of photos over the years from “unusual types.”