On a Thursday in July, Margaux Sky put together what she thought was her last batch of sandwiches at the Art Café & Bakery, her festively eccentric restaurant in San Luis Obispo, California. It was a to-go order. She packed up the sandwiches, along with salads and homemade double chocolate fudge cake. Her sister, Mary Bennett, who'd ordered the food, picked it up.
That night, Margaux got a call from Mary's husband, Tim. "Your sandwiches were a hit," he said. "They were a big hit."
Tim Bennett is the president of Harpo Productions, and his guest that afternoon was his boss, Oprah. When the platter was passed around the table, Oprah chose the curried chicken.
"I don't think she was completely through the first bite before she said, 'This is unbelievable—the best sandwich I've ever tasted,'" Tim recalls. He told her to enjoy it, because Margaux was closing her café the next day. She had been working nonstop, barely making ends meet, for two and a half years and was just too tired to continue.
Oprah thought about the sandwich and about Margaux on the hour-long drive back to her home in Santa Barbara. When she got there, she e-mailed Tim: "Anybody this good shouldn't go out of business."
The timing was uncanny. At 9 a.m. the next day, Margaux was to sign the Art Café over to a new owner. At 8 a.m. she got the call from Tim to say that Oprah was sending her a big check to hire help so she could keep going.
Two weeks later, Oprah and Margaux met for the first time at the café. Since opening the café, Margaux said, she'd been getting up at 3 a.m. to feed her pets before heading to work to bake the bread, muffins, pies and cakes she'd serve that day. Then she'd prep the rest of the menu, do all the cooking, fill every order and clean the kitchen before finally closing up. "I was just exhausted," she said.
"It's a mistake women make all the time—trying to do everything," Oprah told her. "You need a support system."
Now Margaux has one. With Oprah's gift, she has hired two sandwich chefs and two people to clean and do dishes. Margaux is free to concentrate on creating her soul-soothing food. And business is booming. Margaux plans to expand into the gallery next door.
"What Margaux does best is make this artful cuisine," Oprah says. "She shouldn't have to serve it and clean the ovens and sweep and open and close the shop. There's real grace in asking for help."
Get the recipe for Margaux's Curried Chicken Sandwich.
Margot Dougherty is an editor at
Los Angeles Magazine.