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Customers are like family to bar owner

Posted on Thursday, January 16, 2020 at 11:24 am

Humphrey made great strides to succeed

By Clay Coleman

When you’re coming in for a landing, one of the first things you do is slide open the window. You lean your body out, your stomach pressed against the frame of the helicopter, as you look for wires, telephone poles, anything that may bring you and the aircraft down. If you’re lucky, you can see where the accident occurred — the black lines of the tread where the brakes locked up, you follow them until the trail disappears from the highway. You can see the swath cut in the field’s as the car tumbled over and over on itself, eventually coming to a stop, laying on its roof. And as you exit the aircraft, watching the ground as you navigate the crash scene, you find her, and you stand there looking down.

VANDALIA—Julie Humphrey has always considered herself an underdog. Coming from the boot heel of Missouri, she grew up poor, raised by a cop she would eventually call father, her mother, and two brothers and a sister.
“I didn’t have name-brand stuff growing up as a kid. I didn’t get my first car paid for or have a cellphone when I lived at home,” she says in her unmistakable southern Missouri twang, “But we had everything we needed.”
Surviving an automobile accident when she was 16, “a guy hit me head-on and broke every bone from the waist down,” Humphrey’s vowed to walk across the stage and receive her high school diploma. “I was in a wheelchair for about a year. My goal was to walk across that stage and get my diploma. I guess I pulled it off,” she says, laughing.
Humphrey didn’t stay in the boot heel of Missouri for long. Following an ex-boyfriend to Vandalia when she was 21, she quickly found a job as a bartender at the former Glass Door.
“I worked there for probably six months before I became manager,” Humphrey’s reminisced, “That’s where I learned how to run a bar. By the time I was 24, I was ready to start one on my own.” That’s when she and a partner decided to go into business for themselves.
Purchasing an establishment formerly known as Another Place, on W. Washington St., Humphrey’s and her partner opened up Goodfellas Bar and Grill.
“After we purchased the business, we came in and redecorated the place,” Humphrey’s adds. “We bought new tables and chairs. Hanged pictures and placed decorations on the walls; we were looking for a younger, more livelier crowd.”
With little money for advertising, Humphrey’s brought in customers by word of mouth.
“When we first started, the business was different,” she remembers. “There were a lot more jobs in the community back then. We fell in on Another Place’s customer base, brought in our own, and everything just took off.”
Even though times change, and jobs left the area, Goodfellas has remained constant over the years. Offering their patrons games like shuffleboard and darts, customers can relax watching sports from multiple TV’s and enjoy Humphrey’s shrimp and crawfish boils, which she serves for free most weekends.
“We offer free food to our patrons as our way of saying thank you,” she says. “The people here are my family, my circle of friends. Here at Goodfellas, we are a community.” Little did Humphrey know back then, just how vital that community would be to her.
About four years after opening Goodfellas, Humphrey was driving down Hwy.W one day after work. The road was slick from the rain just a few hours before. As she attempted to pass a semi-truck in her lane, she lost control of her vehicle and went off the side of the road. Her SUV rolled and tumbled along the fields, eventually coming to rest upside down. Emergency crews found her a short distance away, unconscious, barely alive. She was air evacuated to the trauma center in Columbia.
“It was wet outside, and I was passing a large truck in my lane,” Humphrey remembers. “I must have lost control because the next thing I remember, I woke up in the hospital three months later.”
Suffering from a brain stem injury, Humphrey’s spent the better part of a year just learning how to talk, walk, and use her fine-motor skills again.
“I had to relearn everything,” Humphrey recalls her time spent at Rusk Rehabilitation Hospital out of Columbia, “ I couldn’t even tie my shoes.”
But what hit home most for Humphrey’s, was the sense of community that followed her to Columbia, specifically, from her customers at Goodfellas.
“Two of my regulars decided to pay me a visit when I was still in a coma,” she thinks back to her friends from Vandalia. “One of them whispered in my ear that he doesn’t do this for just anyone, then he proceeds to start tap dancing for me. Well, one of the nurses walks in and surprises him, and they tell me that was the first time I smiled.”
Humphrey talks about another time when her patrons tailgated in the hospital parking lot.
“My friends would never let me eat hospital food,” Humphrey remembers, “So they would give money to the nurses to buy me real food. One day, some friends from the bar came upstairs, put me in a wheelchair, and rolled me outside where they had a grill set up in the parking lot.”
But that was years ago. Times have changed in Vandalia. Though some businesses have come and gone, Goodfellas is still here and continues to grow. And though some have attempted to buy her out, Humphrey is adamant she’ll never sell.
“This bar is my home now. These people, my circle, are my family, and I will never sell. I will never leave them,” she said.
When asked how she feels about those who look down on her business, look down at Vandalia having a bar in town, Humphrey remembers being looked down upon her whole life.
“I hold my head up and keep going,” she says. “I have a little girl now, Piper, and I made a vow to her that she’ll always have me to look up to. I will never let her down.”