When Kim Dean-Hatfield was growing up, she and her family would eat at a casual Mexican restaurant on Route 17 in York County.
The restaurant is now called the Cactus, and Hatfield, 43, has been its manager since November. She and her brother, Bobby Dean, bought the place in 2004 and over the years, it has seen a succession of managers and served a variety of customers.
"One manager was a Harley rider and there were only bikers here," she says. "People still call it a biker bar. It's been a battle."
Dean-Hatfield has nothing against bikers or bars. In fact, the Cactus serves alcohol, stays open late on weekends and brings in pop and country bands. But she also wants the restaurant to be known as a place where families can come and enjoy a meal. To that end, Hatfield has revamped the menu, adding kids' offerings and upgraded the beef and other products she serves.
The regular menu includes a selection of sandwiches, salads and burgers plus steak and chicken dishes. Two months ago, she added a number of seafood specials that are bringing in new customers. The lineup includes crab cake and oyster platters, fresh fish and a Surf and Turf that combines a 12-ounce rib-eye with a choice of seafood entrée.
"I do a lot of the cooking myself," says Dean-Hatfield, who's usually on the premises six days a week. "I didn't go to cooking school and I don't have any fancy recipes.
"We were raised on Southern food and seafood. Growing up we all ate the same food that I'm serving here."
Her efforts are winning over customers like Eleanor Simpson of Seaford, who has been dining at the Cactus for more than 40 years.
"It's local and it's close," says Simpson. "It's been many restaurants over the years but the best one is there now.
"Kim has worked so hard, and she's made a big difference. I hope that people will recognize her efforts."
Dean-Hatfield grew up in the Seaford section of York County where her grandfather worked in the crabbing and fishing industry. She's been involved with some of her family's businesses that do contract work with the Virginia Department of Transportation but she has also kept her hand in food service. She's done catering over the years and in the late 1990s owned Kelsey's Deli & Sea Grill in the Washington Square Shopping Center.
She puts in the long hours because "I love people, and I love hearing about people's lives. I know it's a business at the end of the day, but it's all about the people."
Inside the Cactus the walls are painted red and yellow, and the decorations and menu headings reflect a cowboy theme. Over the years Dean-Hatfield has worked with horses and has rescued and rehabilitated them to be donated to organizations that work with at-risk kids.
She still caters barbecues and weddings and opens up the Cactus on weekend afternoons for receptions and private parties. In addition to nightly specials, she does Happy Hour food specials and theme nights. Tuesday is fajita night, and Thursday is all-you-can-eat prime rib. On Wednesday nights, kids 12 and under eat free, and adults can enjoy two dinners for $20.
She continues to offer live music with acoustic artist Johnny St. Clair appearing on Friday evenings and bands such as The Deloreans and Crazy X on the weekends. There's also a lounge area with pool tables and a separate bar adjacent to the dining room.
In the beginning, people were a little leery, she says, but "we've had good luck bringing in new people. The families are starting to come here.
"It's evolved and gone through a lot of changes," she says. "I didn't want to go out and bring people in before it was ready." Now, she feels that "anyone can come in here and get a nice meal for a good price."
Want to go?
Cactus Steakhouse & Saloon
6401 George Washington Memorial Highway, York County. 898-8500
Hours: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Monday.