After 19 years of ownership, Prapai Ringenberg is ready to step down from management and sell the Coffee Cup Diner.
“I work more than full time,” Ringenberg said. “My groin, lower back, and legs hurt and at my age it’s quite a bit.”
Ringenberg has been in the restaurant industry for 50 years and she says her body cannot keep up any longer.
Ringenberg has been wanting to sell the diner throughout the past year, but no one has committed to buying it. She said people have expressed interest and have been open to the option, but no one made a final decision.
With her body wearing out after working 50 hours a week, Ringenberg couldn’t wait for potential buyers to decide, so she put the business on the market. She also carries personal responsibilities that hold more of an urgency over managing the diner, especially helping her sister who has dementia.
In the past, Ringenberg has joked about selling the diner with Joe Wollet, her realtor neighbor, but didn’t seriously consider it until recently. With Wollet’s help, the two were able to advertise the diner two weeks ago on a listing website, listing the business for $89,000.
“It’s heartbreaking, but I totally understand,” Wollot said. “This is Pai’s next chapter and she’s ready to start that.”
Wollet has known Ringenberg for nearly two decades. He said she is a special woman and he is grateful for how long she has been running the diner. While many managers have come and gone for the Coffee Cup Diner, Wollet said Ringenberg is irreplaceable and her community cares for her like family.
The next owner has a lot to live up to when filling in her spot, Wollet said. He and the community will make sure the new manager is fit for the diner and the community, he said.
“I know someone good will come in, someone that understands the community. If not, the people will tell them,” Wollet said. “I’ll make sure they fit — someone that’s jovial and honest, and like Pai, who has a heart the size of Montana.”
Ringenberg said she wants Kathy Wildrick, one of her waitresses, to take over and manage the diner, but Wildrick says she isn’t interested in taking up the extra responsibilities. Wildrick said she is content with her current position and enjoys what she does.
“When we close, we get to go home. Pai doesn’t,” Wildrick said. “You can do something you enjoy, you can be with people, and have fun.”
As Ringenberg reflects back on the past five decades in the restaurant industry, she said she hopes the next owner of Coffee Cup Diner will carry on the tradition of serving a hearty meal. She wants the new owner to incorporate his or her own personality into the place, just as Ringenberg incorporated Thai food into the menu. When the diner is sold, Ringenberg said she will stop by on her birthdays and will keep her recipes for the next owner if he or she desires to use them.
“I will train them if they want Thai food,” Ringenberg said. “I won’t charge them as long as they’re a serious buyer.”
While she did purchase the diner herself 20 years ago, Ringenberg said she couldn’t have run it alone. The community supported her by providing help in accounting, health regulations, and insurance. If Ringenberg didn’t know how to do it, someone was always out there ready to help.
“I don’t think I could do it alone, I got a lot of help,” Ringenberg said. “I’m not the only one that works.”
Although she initially went into the restaurant industry to make a living for herself, Ringenberg said she strongly believes that working for money will lead people nowhere and a lot of people fail realizing this. Her determination and passion for serving others is what motivates her to continue working hard and earning money is just a benefit out of doing something she truly enjoys.
“Do what you like and like what you do,” Ringenberg said. “You do it so well that people are going to pay you to do it.”
Though her time with the Coffee Cup Diner is ending soon, her spirit for supporting her community is still alive.
She remembers a piece of advice one of her customers told her and still does her best to truly follow it.
“He said, ‘Pai it doesn’t take much to make another person happy’,” Ringenberg said. “‘You don’t have to do great things, just do little things’.”