DOWNTOWN PEOPLE: Irmi Buxeder Is Still Fast On Her Feet
One would be hard pressed to find a person who is more integral to our town than Irmi Buxeder.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
One would be hard pressed to find a person who is more integral to our town than Irmi Buxeder. She may have turned 88 on February 1, but she is still the tenderhearted waitress at another one of Rye’s institutions, Poppy’s Café. Having emigrated from Germany in 1964, the grand dame of Rye is also celebrating her golden anniversary here.
“I came here in 1959, for a three-month vacation, and I liked it a lot. It took five years to convince my husband to move here,” said Irmi. She was sponsored by her sister and brother-in-law, Hilda and Robert Chapderlane who had settled in Rye several years before.
Irmi’s first job here was as a waitress at Playland. “I used to walk to and from work from our home on Grapal Street,” where she resides to this day. “I couldn’t speak a word of English, but I learned from TV and by meeting people. Even today, if I’m having a conversation and I don’t know what a word means, I stop and ask. That’s how you learn.”
Three years later, having improved her English, she and Hilda decided to open their own business. When Robert came upon an ad he found in the local newspaper about a popular ice cream franchise, the entrepreneurial sisters went for broke. With money they had saved and borrowed from their friends, they opened a Baskin-Robbins on Purchase Street where Subway is currently located.
“It wasn’t easy. We had to learn fast, so we trained at an ice cream shop in Scarsdale. We learned scooping, milkshake making, and everything else that goes along with it,” she said. For almost two decades, countless families and their kids became well acquainted with the ice cream ladies’ warmth and sense of humor. The business was a success, but, unfortunately, Irmi’s husband George Buxeder died prematurely. “He died on December 27, 1980,” she solemnly noted. “I could never get another one like him.”
Six years later, the sisters decided to make a move. Not far, just right across the street.
“We came to work at Poppy’s, named for my brother-in-law, who opened it up with his daughter in 1986,” said Irmi, referring to current owner Gerry Massinello. “Gerry used to work for us at Baskin-Robbins. Now her mother and I were working for her.”
Almost 30 years later, Irmi is still waiting on customers, washing dishes, and prepping vegetables. She misses her sister and lifelong collaborator, who died two years ago. “Hilda’s the only sister I ever had. We started out together, worked together, belonged to the same German club in Port Chester, and we bowled together,” she recalled.
When she’s not at Poppy’s, the active octogenarian plays 25-cent Bingo with the Seniors group at Rye Recreation, gets her hair done at Milano’s every Friday morning, and still heads to White Plains Bowl once a week. “I’m happy now if I bowl a 130. The ball has gotten pretty heavy,” she quipped.
When asked if she still enjoys working at Poppy’s, she didn’t skip a beat. “It’s not easy because you’re on your feet, but I still love it. I like everything about it. The customers have known me for a long time. I don’t know what I would do if I stayed home.”