Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita cafe’s famous greeter works for sausage and sleeping quarters

M.J. the cat is the hostess at Beautiful Day Cafe.
M.J. the cat is the hostess at Beautiful Day Cafe.

A near-downtown Wichita restaurant employs a greeter who is unusually popular with its customer base — and who is becoming Facebook famous.

She works for nothing, except maybe a little scrap of sausage here and there.

She’s friendly — and mostly reliable. Sometimes, she goes missing for days at time, worrying her employers. Sometimes, they have to bail her out.

She’s so popular, though, that the owners of the restaurant let her live there rent-free. But her sleeping quarters are outside. She’s not allowed to come in.

Her name is M.J., and she’s a feline fixture at Beautiful Day Cafe, the restaurant that Charolett Knapic opened in May 2015 at 2515 E. Central.

As soon as construction started at the building, M.J. — a kitty with no tail but lots of personality — started hanging out on site every day. When the cafe opened, she was still there. She’d purr at customers as they walked in. Occasionally, she’d try to sneak in with them.

After a while, Knapic learned that M.J. was a part-time resident of a house across the alley from the cafe. She was a stray the neighbors adopted, though she refused to stay indoors. The neighbors chipped her and named her Max Jr. because she reminded them of a cat they once had — a tailless manx named Max. When they realized Max Jr. was actually a girl, they decided to call her M.J. instead.

Customers grew to love M.J., and so did Knapic. For the past three years, she’s frequently posted her picture on Facebook and offers customers updates on M.J.’s attempts to get inside.

“She likes to hang out at the front door, and if she hears somebody drive up early, she comes right over,” Knapic said. “She’s really quiet. She just comes up near you and looks at you and wants to be petted.”

Twice over the years, M.J. has suddenly disappeared. Both times, including for a scary three-week span in October, Knapic and her customers were heartsick. But both times, M.J. was found safe and sound at the pound, likely taken there by someone who assumed she was homeless. The first time, M.J.’s owner paid $50 to bail her out. In October, her bail increased to $85 (second offense) and Knapic paid to spring her.

Denise Neil File photo

But M.J. is not homeless, despite choosing not to spend much time in her actual home. This fall, Knapic assigned a project to a group of students from the Northfield School of the Liberal Arts, who volunteer to work in her restaurant’s adjacent garden now and then.

She asked them to build a little house for M.J. that could sit just in front of the cafe, and one day, they did. It’s a little wooden hut with a kitty-sized door, and it has an “open” sign posted on it. At first, M.J. wasn’t too interested in going in. Now, she hangs out inside all the time. Knapic has even purchased a heated mat she plans to put inside that will make cafe life even cozier for No. 1 employee.

Beautiful Day Cafe diners have come to count on seeing the restaurant’s little greeter when they visit. Many of them sneak little bites from their plates to feed her on the way out. Knapic knows because she’ll often find tiny pieces of sausage or egg M.J. has rejected littering the front walk.

“If anything ever happens to that cat, I am in so much trouble,” Knapic said with a laugh.

Charolett Knapic is dedicating the new garden for her restaurant on Saturday. (Nov. 19, 2015)

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.