Todd Cassidy grew up with Jasper’s downtown as his playground.
With his mom’s store — Winkler’s back then, Midwest Café & Market these days — as an anchor point, he was always in the midst of the business and residential center of the city.
His close friend, Eli Ring, and he had plenty to do together. The Ring family lived nearby at the corner of 13th and Main Streets and were close family friends. Both families homeschooled their kids so Todd and Eli became fast friends.
They would hang out at the store doing odds and ends until they had collected a couple of quarters. Enough to burn through a couple Yuh-Gi-Oh or Pokemon packs from the nearby shop that carried the collectable playing card games.
“We just kinda ran amuck through the town,” Todd explained.
His mom, Landy Gabhart, also had a different view of schooling for her children. “I’m completely unschooled,” Todd explained. “My mom’s side of the family was always really against the system.”
Todd would meet up with a tutor twice a week for a couple of hours to learn basic reading, writing and arithmetic. “I kinda dreaded it as a kid because I don’t really like being told what to do,” he explained.
He was free to explore whatever passions he had at the time but his life centered around the store’s location at 1102 Newton Street across from St. Joseph Catholic Church. It’s no wonder that with the streets of downtown Jasper ingrained in their lives and the extended family the store has created, Todd and his brothers, Kurt and Michael, all work full time at Midwest Café these days.
Todd’s enthusiastic greeting to anyone entering the store sets the tone for most visits. “Ever since I was a little kid my mom taught me to treat people well. People that walk in those doors or walk into my house or into your life in general,” he explained. “So when people come in here, it’s just like in my home.”
He’s been ringing customers up for muffins since he was a preteen. “I remember being so frustrated because I was so mature when I was a little kid that when adults would treat me like a kid, it would piss me off,” he laughed.
But he loved, and still loves, being part of the store and the community of regulars who seem like family after so many years.
Todd has seen a lot of his friends leave the area but he’s not leaving anytime soon.
“People talk about the way intelligence kinda funnels out of these smaller communities into the bigger cities, but, what I have experienced is people go out when they’re young and dumb. Then, they learn and come back.”
He purchased his first home last year and is happily tending his first garden this year — well, actually, just trying to figure out how to keep weeds out of it.
The 26-year-old still enjoys card and video games and is a musician, but his open education has also cultivated an appreciation for learning and exploring new skills. Recently, he’s taken up stained glass work and is creating a panel based on a design his girlfriend created. His dad, Chris Cassidy, got him the glass-working tools as a gift on a whimsical request from Todd. To a certain extent, Todd feels like he owes it to him to figure out how to create something now. But, he’s having a great time tapping into the local talented artists and craftspeople for some lessons to get started in the right direction.
Along with planting his roots firmly in his hometown, Todd is stepping up to help shape the city’s future. He became a delegate for the Indiana Democratic Convention this year. “I’d like to see a lot more citizens participating in the way this community grows,” he said. “I’d like to see more critical thinking on how money is being spent. I think it is super-important right now because the town is growing so much and this is the town we are going to own in 20 years.”
Working at the store allows him to hear different viewpoints from the many people who visit daily. It’s that constant interaction, the busy back and forth and the enjoyable banter, that has always been there as he grew up. Introspection isn’t easy, but looking back, Todd can see that those interactions are what have shaped his views and his life up to this point.
“There is a good mix of people that I see every day that I consider my family,” Todd said. “Then, there are people who are passing through town and have interesting stories to tell. I love it. I think I would miss it all if I wasn’t here.”