July 10, 2021

By John Beaudoin

Topsy’s Café owner Jessica Marlin doesn’t know who was more excited about the prospect of bringing her diner’s 1950s-era neon sign back to life – Dave Eames and Ben Wine or herself.

“When I saw how excited they were, I knew I had found the right people.”

Eames and Wine, owners of Fossil Forge Design in downtown Lee’s Summit, have a soft spot for businesses in downtowns and on Main streets. And when they came across this 109-year-old café in Concordia, Mo., they were ready to lend their hands to bring the signage back to life.

When Marlin bought Topsy’s Café two years ago, she discovered the 1950s neon sign in the attic. Through a grant program with Missouri Main Street and working with Fossil Forge Design, she was able to successfully restore it to its original luster and shine. And the Fossil Forge guys couldn’t have been more thrilled to be a part of the find and opportunity.

“We saw it as if we were walking into King Tut’s Tomb,” Eames said, recalling the first time they saw the Topsy’s sign. “We love cafés and gravy. We just wanted to help her succeed.”

Eames and Wine restored the neon and made electrical upgrades, noting that, remarkably, it was in excellent condition with the neon still working some 60 years later. It was re-installed at a ceremony at the downtown Concordia diner (715 S. Main St.) at 7 p.m. on June 29.

An anonymous donor also became part of the Topsy’s story as Fossil Forge worked to restore the sign. A Lee’s Summit resident happened into the metal and sign workshop during the Topsy’s project and spotted the sign of a diner his wife worked at in the mid-70s.

“’You’ve gotta be kidding me,’” Ben recalls him saying, adding that he called the shop back later and told them, “My wife and I want to take care of the bill.”

Marlin’s history at Topsy’s dates back to when the then 12-year-old took a job as a dishwasher at the diner that belonged to her Aunt Annette. She waited tables there until she was 20, eventually purchasing the place in 2019.

“I’m trying to bring Topsy’s back to the 50s,” she said. “There’s a lot of memorabilia here and I’m trying to bring some of that back out. Everyone has modern restaurants, I want to bring this one back to what it used to be.”

She said working with Fossil Forge was the connection she had been waiting for.

“They’re amazing. I absolutely love those guys,” she said. “Everybody in our town is so excited to see it. We don’t know exactly when the sign came down. I’ve had people calling me like crazy asking, ‘When’s it going to happen? When’s it going to happen?’”

“We love old signs, but we love old signs even better when they’re back where they belong,” Wine said. “The café in most towns is the gathering place, the center of town. It’s hard to imagine another business that would have the warmth of a café to get the interest back into restoring the signage back to its original glory.”